Coming on like a ‘Twin Peaks’ version of Otis Redding
Where to start? A former US soldier, Willis Earl Beal’s ‘Noctunes’ album is one of the most affecting releases you’ll hear all year, such is its delicately intense ambient drift.
Why Willis Earl Beal?
Vocally, ‘Noctunes’ is silky. Musically, its low hum, gentle plinks and rumbles in the distance, making for a deep breath of a record. And it’s that way because this is a man with tales to tell.
Following a medical discharge from the army, Willis ended up living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he made CDs of his lo-fi music (complete with hand-drawn covers) and left them in local coffee shops in the hope that girls would find them and swoon. Sort of worked out, because one such recording made its way into the hands of the sporadic Found magazine (a mag full of articles about, erm, found stuff)… where his tale was clocked by XL Recordings… who signed him to the label’s Hot Charity offshoot.
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XL released two long-players (‘Acousmatic Sorcery’, a collection of coffee shop wooings, and ‘Nobody Knows’, an ambitious full orchestra outing) before a parting of the ways saw Willis retreat to the woods and become a ‘Twin Peaks’ version of Otis. And so here he is with a new label (Oregon’s Tender Loving Empire record company/store) and one heck of a new album.
“People had all these ideas about what I was supposed to be,” he says. “I had only ever wanted to make lullabies. This record, to me, is a perfect record. I listen to that thing a lot and it helps me.”
‘Noctunes’ is on Tender Loving Empire