Wil­lARD gRANT CoN­sPiR­ACY Un­teth­ered

The late Robert Fisher of­fers a down­beat but de­fi­ant swan­song. By Al­lan Jones

UNCUT - - New Albums -

Wil­lard Grant Con­spir­acy’s mu­sic has al­ways seemed to come from a place of per­ma­nent eclipse, an un­lit world. it’s barely a sur­prise, then, that Un­teth­ered is so steeped in shadow, a sense of ap­proach­ing doom, dim fore­bod­ings, that kind of thing. This has been the pre­vail­ing mood of their al­bums since 1997’s de­but, 3am At Free­dom Otto’s, and land­mark fol­low-ups like 2003’s exquisitely mourn­ful Re­gard The End. What makes lis­ten­ing to Un­teth­ered more than ever like watch­ing the last sun­set, how­ever, is the knowl­edge that th­ese are the fi­nal tracks robert Fisher recorded. He died of can­cer in Jan­uary 2017.

Fisher formed Wil­lard Grant in Bos­ton in 1995 and for the next 20 years was the only per­ma­nent mem­ber of a mu­tat­ing col­lec­tive of mu­si­cians. Prin­ci­pal among them was multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist david Michael Curry, who joined for sec­ond al­bum, Mo­jave, in 1999. Curry’s vi­ola be­came as much a sig­na­ture sound of WGC’s sub­se­quent al­bums as Fisher’s sonorous vo­cals, Curry be­com­ing over the years Fisher’s clos­est mu­si­cal col­lab­o­ra­tor; War­ren El­lis, if you like, to Fisher’s Nick Cave. From the start, Fisher’s songs were con­sumed by sin, ret­ri­bu­tion, shame, guilt, de­spair, loss of faith, re­demp­tion through love. On their most re­splen­dent al­bums, Re­gard The End, Let It Roll and Pil­grim Road, par­tic­u­larly, Fisher and Curry fash­ioned out of th­ese raw emo­tions mini-sym­phonies, re­plete with strings, gor­geous brass ar­range­ments, clar­ion gui­tars; a soar­ing sound, yet al­ways bound to an un­fath­omable sor­row, an ec­static melan­choly.

af­ter tour­ing Pil­grim Road as a 12-piece, WGC scaled back. Old songs were re­worked on 2009’s Pa­per Cov­ers Stone by a much-re­duced lineup. Their last al­bum, 2013’s Ghost Repub­lic, fea­tured only Fisher and Curry. The duo con­tin­ued to tour, some­times with ad­di­tional mu­si­cians. in early 2016, they played the in­cu­bate Fes­ti­val, in the Nether­lands. On his re­turn to Cal­i­for­nia, Fisher was di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer. With the faith­ful Curry and a small group, Fisher spent what time he had left record­ing the tracks that Curry has as­sem­bled as Un­teth­ered. ac­cord­ing to Curry, the ti­tle track was the only post­di­ag­no­sis song Fisher wrote. Ev­ery­thing about the al­bum, though, has as a sense of re­quiem and adieu.

it opens with the elemental com­mo­tion of “Hideous Beast”, roughly the equiv­a­lent of be­ing hit in the face by a swing­ing door. it’s im­pos­si­ble to hear it as any­thing less than the howl of some­one whose life’s just been stamped with a sell-by date. Fisher sounds like some­thing with hooves, trapped in a burn­ing barn. The track crack­les around him, some­thing short-cir­cuit­ing, sys­tems break­ing down amid crash­ing drums, pul­veris­ing bass and gnaw­ing, un­hinged gui­tars; a grue­some, hys­ter­i­cal noise. Things calm down af­ter this. “do No Harm” is a song about re­gret and ca­pit­u­la­tion, warmly wrapped in acous­tic gui­tars, cello and Curry’s ubiq­ui­tous vi­ola, with Steve Wynn, on sec­ond­ment from dream Syn­di­cate, sup­ply­ing rup­tur­ing shards of elec­tric gui­tar. Fisher’s im­pos­ing voice has down the years var­i­ously been com­pared to Co­hen, Cash, Cale, Nick Cave, those gloomy vo­cal pall­bear­ers. On “26 Turns” and tracks like “Chas­ing rab­bits”, “love You apart” and “Satur­day With Jane”, how­ever, he more often re­calls lam­b­chop’s Kurt Wag­ner. His voice in other words in­clined to a kind of mum­bling rap­ture, a be­daz­zled mur­mur.

“let The Storm Be Your Pi­lot” is more ob­vi­ously trou­bled, Fisher’s voice re­duced to multi-tracked whis­pers, the mu­sic a break­ing squall. The in­stru­men­tal “all We Have left” is sim­i­larly dis­qui­et­ing. acous­tic gui­tar, cello and vi­ola drones cre­ate a close, muggy at­mos­phere, dis­tantly rem­i­nis­cent of Van Mor­ri­son’s “TB Sheets”, a sick-room am­bi­ence that makes you want to fling open win­dows, let some air in. “i Could Not” is sim­i­larly bereft, a song of som­bre dis­ap­point­ment. “I thought I could un­der­stand the words in the book of love,” Fisher sings. “I thought I could sing a song for ev­ery man... I could not,” he con­cludes, un­hap­pily, dis­ap­pear­ing into an en­gulf­ing noise. The ti­tle track, mean­while, starkly an­tic­i­pates per­sonal apoc­a­lypse. “Last night, I dreamed I was blown-up and busted,” Fisher sings, stunned by cir­cum­stance. “Time moves slowly, then it’s over, the shad­ows fall and box us in,” he re­flects, fa­tal­is­ti­cally.

The al­bum closes with “Trail’s End”, which makes you think of singing cow­boys, some­thing maybe in­volv­ing yo­delling. it starts like an ap­palachian lament, played un­der low­er­ing skies, be­fore be­com­ing a clam­orous, an­gry racket, a de­fi­ant adios from a some­times un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated but often ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent.

(l-r) Robert Fisher and David Michael Curry of wil­lard grant Con­spir­acy

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