This, particularly, seems to have baffled some people at his label — that, or they saw it as an affront. “I had this emblem, this ‘nobody’ symbol and this whole philosophy about subverting capitalism… and promoting things that I started to believe in over time. For [an undisclosed person at XL], I believe that was a little bit too much,” he told Under the Radar.
On the occasion that Beal did tour with a band, he called them the “Church of Nothing,” a nondenominational musical sanctuary of sorts, espousing the assertion that, “The only thing that is important is that you understand that we’re all interconnected. I am nothing. Nothing is everything.” The archive on his website is called “The Book of Nobody.” You get the picture (or, fine, the picture’s negative). Noctunes is the apotheosis, of sorts, of this shedding of media-courting selfhood: his work, while with XL, came out sounding like this:
In the meantime, both Noctunes and Beal’s previous, self-released album, last year’s Experiments in Time, have shed the blues-derivative quality heard above, while also jettisoning notions of structure we attribute to the catharsis of song. Noctunes‘ are soft and exhaustedly mournful tracks, all documenting — as Björk’s Vulnicura recently did — the escalating awareness of the deterioration of love. Like an endless night, the songs bear little in the way of percussive punctuation; even the more rhythmic tracks seem as though they could expand forever, carrying the listener — seduced by Beal’s intimate timbre — away into an unremittingly sad infinity.
“It’s supposed to help the listener fall asleep and if they can’t sleep, then listening to the lyrics should be basically relatable if you have a broken heart,” Beal told Paper. Lullabies are, of course, noted for their simplicity, for being unassuming enough to be sung by, say, a parent with the self-effacing warmth and generosity of wanting your words to make a child sleep, to sooth into a state of blissful disappearance. Beal had said, in the past, that all he ever wanted to do was to write lullabies — another display of longing for self-negation.
In detaching himself, perhaps in a way that would make concerned fans nervous, from the systems desperate to make him a commodified someone, he’s embodied capitalism’s greatest form of “nobody”: a vagabond, a man without property. In his self-fulfilling prophetic prizing of nobody/nothingness, he has, indeed, achieved something musically evocative of the interconnected endgame of such negations.
Apart from divorcing him from these systems, Noctunes‘ songs are lullabies of his literal divorce, of removal, and of solitude. People can connect to them on two levels, based on their own experiences of heightened isolation: sleep and heartbreak. Through negation of the negation, Marx posited that private property could become at once social and individual. It seems that through systemically negating himself, Beal has achieved his desire for freedom, as an artist, from the capitalist manacles of a trend-encapsulated self; his is an act of negation that reaches for universality, while proving him even more of an individual, with ownership over himself. The penultimate track on Noctunes, “Start Over,” bears the most memorable note on the album: Beal stretches his voice to howling falsetto on the word “anew.” His delivery of that note is the triumph, a self-affirmation bolstered by a meticulous career of self-negation.