April 2012 belongs to one of America’s newest buzz acts, Willis Earl Beal: a man who ignores today’s traditional marketing strategies and gets right down to the grit. Every article written about the musician reveals Beal’s humble beginnings and his unyielding ambition to make music for a living. He started off busking in Chicago’s subways and leaving CD-Rs of his home recordings around the city. Until recently, Beal even embraced fans and curious members of the press by dispersing his private phone number publicly and literally inviting people to call him up. Apparently too many people were struck by the musician’s openness and followed his lead, resulting in a surplus of phone calls that Beal couldn’t keep up with. The phone number he previously provided now forwards callers to a voicemail that says Beal is “taking a break from the calls right now,” because he’s “getting an explosion of calls” and he’s really busy. He adds at the end, “I love you, and I appreciate your support.”
On April 3, Beal released his 11-track debut album Acousmatic Sorcery (XL Recordings/Hot Charity), finally providing fans with a full picture of Beal’s musical capabilities. The songs are a less-is-more representation of what a versatile musician creates when he’s hungry to make his first record. The tracks stem from dozens of demos he recorded using a cassette-based karaoke machine, some other flea market finds and his own makeshift pots and pans drum kit. The scaled-back mixed bag of songs are at first a bit jarring; it seems as if Beal has so many goals set for his music and he can’t choose a steady sound. Ranging from experimental to gospel, each song has its own set of rules as Beal changes instruments, vocal styles and techniques.