Willis Earl Beal has the most mesmerizing voice in music today, and no one else comes close. Not since Julee Cruise‘s spooky/sexy vocals were heard on Twin Peaks has a sound so instantly caught my attention and held it. He puts that power to great use on his newest LP, the just-self-released Experiments In Time that came out last week. With sparse accompaniment Beal creates a whole world, layering his voice on top of itself and keeping a quiet rumble of synths beneath to fill in the outer reaches of the soundscape.
If you’re familiar with Beal’s work, imagine the vibe of “Wavering Lines” slowly caressing your ears for 12 tracks, and you’d have a pretty good idea of what Experiments In Time has in store for you. It can be dark at times, swimming through the primal recesses of Beal’s mind. But, like the man himself, it is never without hope, looking toward a brighter future.
If you didn’t know there were 12 different tracks, you might think the whole thing was one continuous piece, “Thick As A Brick”-style. Like a nights worth of dreams and nightmares, the album feels like that haze right before you wake up, with everything mashed together. If you really pay attention you can hear the subtle differences from one track to another. Beal touches on his separation from XL subsidiary Hot Charity in a couple songs, but most of his lyrical content is more universally relatable-feeling lost, useless, scared. My favorite line comes in the tune “Waste It Away,” where Beal sings: “These people adjacent are all just complacent. They won’t just face it, they’re all just jaded. They will never make it cuz there’s nowhere to make it. Continue to fake it, they’ll all just waste it.”
This is an interesting record for Beal. Not only is it closer in feel to his first album, Acousmatic Sorcery, it’s also a strong declaration of his attitude as an artist. Love him or hate him, buy his records or not, Beal is gonna keep doing what he wants to do. If Nobody Knows was Beal playing in a toy box and pulling out all the tricks, Experiments In Time is the same boy alone in his room being sent off without dinner to think about what he’s done.