Willis Earl Beal made his new Through The Dark EP with Nathan Gibson, a musician he literally met on the street. A last-minute release prior to his going on tour throughout Europe this spring, the project expresses abstract concepts from a tactfully disorganized standpoint. The results starkly contrast the ultra-structured pop sound to which so many current artists aspire.
Unless you’ve been living in an indie-free bubble, which I assume is not the case given the fact that you’re reading an article about Willis Earl Beal, you’ve probably caught wind of the bedroom-pop mentality that has been dominating SoundCloud hashtags for the past few years. Acts across the gamut from electronic to punk to surf to R&B have been citing an aspiration to create pop music due to its inherently accessible and enjoyable nature. And although this mentality has done a lot to prompt the intermingling of genres and sounds not previously associated with one another, I for one, am easily bored by repetition.
Despite the fact that Beal’s soulful vocals have a personal narrative and lo-fi warmth, the instrumentals on this EP couldn’t be further from the punchy melodies found on most pop tracks. While padded by a number of sustaining strings, vapor wave-y synths, and ambient samples, Beal manages to steer clear of drone territory with the addition of simple bass lines and sparse, almost jazzy percussion. His soulful melodies move above a blurred plain of sound, occupying the negative space and cutting against the idea that poignancy is achieved through a direct and forward-facing attack on the emotions. In keeping with his lyric about being “lost in a dream,” Beal surrounds us with a landscape rather than approaching his work laterally, and we’re left with a deconstruction of music whose meanderings through melody and rhythm show us a different way to experience sound and emotion. Listen below.
Through The Dark is out 4/1 on Tender Loving Empire. Pre-order it here.