Album Review: Willard Grant Conspiracy – Untethered

The release of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s album Untethered was a bittersweet affair. As anticipated as new music was from this alt-country stalwart, there was no escaping the finality of it for Willard Grant Conspiracy’s founder and lynchpin, Robert Fisher, had died of cancer almost 2 years earlier

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Longtime collaborator David Michael Curry was compelled to finish the recording by “a growing sense of needing this record to honour the history of the band.”

What is striking from the start is a lack of sentimentality. Despite the band’s alt-country pedigree, Hideous Beast could be a particularly dark ’90s grunge track. Downtuned instruments circle the refrain” I am a hideous beast.”

That jarring introduction finds contrast with Do No Harm. Here, Fisher’s deep vocal is softened in a melodious, reflective wonderful wanderlust piece. It’s reminiscent of Eddie Vedder’s Into The Wild soundtrack.

All We Have Left speaks to both the unfinished nature and promise of Grant’s final recordings. The strings explore elemental tuning-like sounds but the underlying melody fighting for prominence is simple and beautiful.

Fisher’s distinctive voice returns in 26 Turns, an almost spoken word piece that seems personal and poignant even before the ultimate realisation: “we’re often out of time.” It’s an unsentimental, real love song.

The insistent instrumentation style returns in Chasing Rabbits, bearing down like an ironic tribute to Lou Reed with repetition of “it’s a perfect day.” One of the most haunting parts of the album interjects: the hard stop after “it isn’t a world for silence.”

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Photo Credit: Jason Hughes

Let The Storm Be Your Pilot us sweetly whispered and makes space for quiet to match the words. It’s hard to believe this was the same man yelling about being a hideous beast in the opening track!

Love You Apart sounds sweet with lush strings but it’s lyrically disturbing, opening with “I want to eat you alive.” Hopes of a misguided metaphor are dashed: “I want to lick all your knuckles… I want to feed you to monsters.”

Margaret On The Porch and Two Step feel more fully formed than the previous instrumental, though they retain a charming simplicity and wistful air.

Poignancy goes into overdrive in Saturday With Jane. The plaintive refrain echoes: “If I could choose/Saturday afternoon with Jane” but we listeners know there will be no more of those.

I Could Not‘s extended intro was intriguing, worthy of a standalone piece in its own right. However, Fisher had a story to tell in his slow baritone. Under the circumstances, the specter of unreached potential is heartbreaking: “Thought I could sing a song for every man but I/I could not.”

With Untethered, Willard Grant Conspiracy and Fisher’s legacy is honoured in strings and reverb, bursts of insight and deep refrains. A fitting tribute.

Untethered is out now on Loose. 

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