Willis Earl Beal - Noctunes

by David Bruggink Rating:6 Release Date:2015-08-28

Don't you love a good nocturnal album? No, not an album of Satanic chanting, or field recordings of bat echolocation, but a saturated-with-melancholy album, painted with inky blues and golden yellow street lamps; an album that makes you think of smoky jazz bars and gazing down into a quiet boulevard at 3am from a Paris balcony. Okay, maybe I'm letting my imagination get carried away, but how can you hear a song like '

' and not be wrapped up in that feeling?

 
It might not be a huge surprise, then, Willis Earl Beal's new album, Noctunes (not nocturnes - presumably a terrible/awesome pun, and not an unintentional misspelling), does a great job nailing that nocturnal vibe. Like a slow, somnambulant drive through the city, it drifts by on keyboard strings with soft edges and raspy croons. The hooks, where they exist, are subdued by molasses tempos and near-tuneless melodies that slink by, but are sometimes quite beautiful. ‘Lust’, even as its minimal arrangement for acoustic guitar and keyboard lurches forward in a repetitive daze, manages to cast a rather affecting spell.
 
The sound of Noctunes has more in common with Beal’s more recent full-length, Experiments in Time, and as such feels like an intentional paring down compared with the more embellished and accessible Nobody Knows. Oddly enough, its closest spiritual predecessor might be The Blue Nile’s Hats, with its faded neon daubs of synthesizer (’12 Midnight’), occasional drum machines (’Survive’), and humbly heartfelt vocals. Its main fault, though (or virtue, depending how you look at it), is its lack of dynamics, of tension, of development within each track. Honeyed though Beal’s voice can be, fans of Nobody Knows might find themselves wishing for that album’s lush arrangements, while those looking to submerge in Beal’s particular vision of the night will be right at home.
 
 

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