For a while, all we had from Chicago’s foremost ambient-soul outcast Willis Earl Beal was the piecemeal collection of lo-fi home recordings Acousmatic Sorcery that XL Recordings/Hot Charity rightfully snapped up in 2012. Beal has been vocal before about how the capitalistic aspect of the music industry had a negative impact on his subsequent ability to produce music, and though he put out his second album Nobody knows. through XL too, he soon split with the label to pursue even more experimental paths. After leaving XL, he more than doubled his output last year, releasing a string of possessed, warped soul music sets that hissed at status quo. Experiments In Time, the A Place That Doesn’t Exist EP, Curious Cool, and the CD Baby collection Experiments In Time: The Golden Hour — it seemed like the music just kept pouring out of him.
I interviewed Beal back in 2013 and it was one of the most enjoyable, mind-boggling conversations I’ve had the privilege of being a part of. One of the major themes in our conversation was a desire to keep reinventing his sound — another was his dream of moving to an isolated place in the Northwest to start over (He was a little startled when I told him I was from a small town in Oregon and encouraged this move.) For his new, more official release, he did just that. Nocturnes is the product of Beal’s time spent outside of Olympia, Washington, and if the lead track “Flying So Low” is any indication, it’s going to sound like it. There’s major Twin Peaks sad-synth touchstones here, but Beal is never one to be overshadowed by his influences. His voice sounds better than it ever has, and though this song wails and flails in its own way, desperate way, he sounds like he’s achieved some semblance of peace. The Northwest’ll do that to you. Listen.
Noctunes is out 8/28 via Tender Loving Empire.