What happens to art when we extricate it from the artist? Does it lose the hold it has on us, or does it grow stronger? Perhaps in manufactured pop or radio music, a song like “Sorry” wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t have the Bieber brand attached to it. On the flip side, I’ve often heard songs whose title eluded me, and whose performer went unnamed. These songs usually strike a different kind of chord, because they could be made by anybody. Or nobody.
If you’re familiar with the work of Willis Earl Beal at all, the name Nobody should be nothing new. The symbol of a face with +’s for eyes has long been associated with his music, and the Church Of Nobody was his touring band for a time. After slipping out of the scene just as quickly as he exploded onto it, he’s been releasing new music fairly anonymously for a couple years. Now he’s taking that anonymity further by putting out music under the Nobody moniker.
The first album under the new pseudonym is Turn, a beautifully hypnotic piece of self-reflection. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll notice that the album doesn’t stray too far from what you heard on Experiments In Time, or last year’s Noctunes. In this sound, he’s found a great way to hide beauty under the shroud of darkness for the listener to seek out and discover for themselves.
There’s an overwhelming sadness to Turn, from beginning to end Nobody is on a search for inner peace that is forever elusive. The quiet desperation of the track “Lonely” is driven home with these lines “Slow motion feels like death. You pass me by, can’t feel my breath. Window pane I’ve got nothing left. Press my face on the glass, cause you know I feel lonely.”
On “Feel,” which could be considered the first single from the album now that Beal posted a video for the song shot in his car while listening to it on his car stereo, one could infer that he’s singing about his musical career when he says “You don’t wanna lose what you never had. Now you’re a young man who says your woman just can’t understand the sacrifices you’ve made. And you feel like she’s drifting away into the land of another reality, and you feel like a liability.” Is Beal confessing that he can’t put anything before his art-even love? He laments a few times in a row “You must do this alone,” perhaps providing some insight into his loneliness.
Much of the album features rhythms one would most accurately call “tribal.” I find this to be a two-fold function: on the one hand it’s a simple way to keep a pulsing beat behind the music with minimal infringement on the other sounds. It also conveys a certain feeling of spirituality that complements the ethereal vocals. Other times the beat is more song-specific, like the galloping hooves of a stallion on “Cowboy.”
For anyone hoping to hear something reminiscent of “Wavering Lines,” the closest you’ll find here is the song “You.” The vocals show off Beal’s range, which remains impressive. The vibe isn’t as minimalistic as the rest of the album, with strings and some different drum sounds than other tracks. It’s arranged a bit like a house version of a Julee Cruse song from “Twin Peaks,” which blends well with the overall dark mystery of Turn.
On the final track, the vocals are shared by both male and female singers (Beal and Symona Meer). Their voices fill the space of “Time” equally in the most straightforward song on the record. The darkness remains lingering with the refrain “Time is a burden that I need not keep. Just like my soul is not worthy for you to weep.” However, some light is shed as we get to the end, whether it represents death or just the end of a long chapter, with singing birds taking over for the singers.
No official release date has been made available, though I am told it could be as early as the end of the month.
If you’d like to check out the interview I conducted with Beal a few weeks ago, click here.