Willis Earl Beal is a captivating if troubled soul. Whilst presenting a persona that’s more comfortable on the fringe of things, the ever-evolving theatre of his backstory creates a character made for the centre stage. It’s this paradox that forms part of what makes Beal and his artistry such a strange and intriguing case. After another period of homelessness, Beal returns with a third LP that takes hold of his identity, discarding twisted pop sensibilities in favour of a bare, defenceless dissection of his inner monologue.
Opener ‘Under You’ sets out the parameters from which Beal rarely strays over the course of Nocturnes – the simple yet decidedly raw presentation of his vocal capabilities, moving between sweet coos, deep soul and twinkling falsetto within the space of the opening six minutes, with little more than distant synth lines accompanying him throughout the rest of the record. It’s a record that wanders through the torments and observations of Beal’s recent years, with little getting in the way of an artist granted the freedom to explore. As a result, it feels a little one-track, lacking in the structure and direction that some may need to truly lock in to a record like this. But Beal is nothing if not a wanderer, both spiritually and physically, and whilst the rough, carefree naivety of its sound might be the reason this record doesn’t make any major splash, it’s gorgeously apt that it should wander in this way.
It’s difficult to second guess what chapter will come next for Beal, but on Noctunes he sounds as sincere and connected as ever before – it’s dark, heartfelt and at times difficult as he confronts the physical realities of his surroundings and inner battles. Whilst its sparseness may lack the hook to keep the listener coming back, it’s intriguing enough in its off kilter lullabies to transport you through one listen if nothing more.