We first came across Willard Grant Conspiracy on a compilation, a song called Soft Hand, a great downbeat blues/Americana tune with hypnotic vocals and addictive inputs from strings and guitar; it’s about lying in bed. We’ve bought albums since and the quality is always good, if you like gloomy Americana.
Their songs always have atmosphere and while they’re quiet, it’s not quiet in your head: their lyrics are about life, death and the meaning of it all. (And lying in bed). As people often say about gloomy songs, they’re also oddly life-affirming.
This new one is in a class of its own, sadly. The band’s lead singer and main man Robert Fisher died in February 2017. Untethered is the song he wrote after he was diagnosed and it’s a powerful piece of music as Fisher sings about his feelings at the cancer diagnosis.
Indeed, opening track aside it’s a collection of songs that are soaked in a mighty melancholy; intimate music you write when you know it’s the last you’re going to produce, and all that was to come must be distilled into one last set of songs.
None of this is true of the first song, the raucous Hideous Beast. It is not typical of WGC but is very typical of Nick Cave: Cave could drop this onto the next Grinderman album, not even changing the vocals, and no-one would notice.
The rest of the album is impossible to see as anything other than a final message. Track two is Do No Harm, (“Do no harm when I’m asleep” sings Fisher). The last features the full band but All We Have Left is an instrumental, acoustic guitar and violin, a Theremin (or maybe a saw) adding ghostliness.
Love You Apart is a love song to someone who is “my reason for waking” with the hope that “your goodness will save us”.
It’s not all gloomy and the instrumental Margaret On The Porch has a spring-like feel to it.
Untethered would be the centrepiece without even knowing the backstory, with its gentle guitar, mournful violin and strong lyrics: “Side-stepped my way into the path of a hurricane” is as good a way of describing a serious diagnosis as you can get.
“Dreamed last night I was blown apart” the song opens, “for the first time in my life I felt untethered.”
Untethered is the penultimate song. The last ever WGC song is Trail’s End, an instrumental — the band’s stricken vocalist missing — that again leans towards Nick Cave, the music he’d write for the closing scene of a western, Fisher departing to the sound of feedback.
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