The outsider-art aesthetic has existed in indie rock for decades — think Jad Fair, Daniel Johnston and Wesley Willis. That raw, untutored and unstable vibe has become a badge of authenticity for some. Willis Earl Beal fits right into the slightly crazed outsider template. Like a jumbled mash-up of Sun Ra, Gil Scott-Heron, Biz Markie and Tom Waits, Beal made a batch of rough totally DIY recordings — using cheap mics and scrappy tape while he was a night clerk at a motel in New Mexico. It starts with spooky, plinky, tinkly, high, metallic lullaby, like a damaged music box. Crude and unpolished gospel blues follow, with lots of groaning and percussion that could be somebody pounding on a cardboard box. Soulful, half-spoken, half-intoned bleak poetry depicting apocalyptic visions, ghosts and androids is sung against string accompaniment. It could be a field recording from an asylum, but it's captivating.
Willis Earl Beal
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