Release Date: Aug 8, 2014
Record label: CD Baby
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
“Monotony/ It’s so holy,” sings Willis Earl Beal on Experiments in Time, his striking baritone voice quivering beneath a thin layer of synths and jazz guitar. Upon an initial listen, this song breaks no new sonic, dynamic, or emotional ground for the avant-folk singer-songwriter. His recordings remain as lo-fi and grainy as ever, his vocals still wilted and weary.
The whole premise of Willis Earl Beal's Experiments In Time is that recorded albums are time capsules. Listening to a record is reliving a past moment. Beal takes this concept and explores it in a richly introspective work that is both challenging and thoroughly satisfying..
Early output from wandering tunesmith Willis Earl Beal was hard to pin down, primarily because of how well his songwriting style attached itself to whichever genre he approached. Over the course of two records and an EP for XL sub-imprint Hot Charity, Beal moved through lo-fi indie mopiness, harrowing gospel, Tom Waits-like barfly crooning, collaborations with Cat Power, and many other breeds of sound, every shifting song tied together by his powerful voice and confident musical delivery. With all of Beal's ceaseless gear-shifting, it comes as no surprise that third album Experiments in Time offers a deep departure from much of what he's done before.
The story of Willis Earl Beal is the stuff crate-digger dreams are made of: a diamond-in-the-rough discovery—complete with a commanding, charismatic persona and seemingly bottomless well of output—rescued from a lifetime of certain obscurity and exposed to the wider audience he deserves. But his is also a cautionary tale of the dissonance that can result when an idiosyncratic artist used to working on their own terms must conform to the promotional demands of the traditional music industry. After 2012’s Acousmatic Sorcery first brought his cassette-crafted ingenuity overground, Nobody knows.
In hindsight, Willis Earl Beal clearly wasn’t cut out for the limelight. When XL Recordings/Hot Charity, his former label, assembled his home recordings for his 2012 debut, “Acousmatic Sorcery,” it made Beal a cult hero with a back story as an outsider artist, until he inevitably chafed at mainstream pressures. Beal returns to his independent roots on his startling new album, which he will self-release through the website CD Baby on Aug.
Experiments In Time opens with a monologue. A man speaks over background noise that sounds like traffic streaming down a faraway highway: “I don’t really like doing things. This just occurred to me. What I mean is, most activities I enjoy involve some manner of stagnation.” Though the story of his past nomadism and homelessness still sometimes precedes him, on Experiments In Time, Willis Earl Beal has finally settled into a groove of patient persistence and is happy to let the musical inertia take over.Since releasing 2013’s Nobody Knows, Beal has broken away from his Hot Charity imprint and its parent label XL, citing creative differences and personality disputes, and released this album on his own.