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Such is the strength of the signature sound forged by Willard Grant Conspiracy that it only takes a few spare notes in the instrumental introduction to Ghost Republic for long-standing afficionadoes to know exactly where they are. Two musical voices, guitar and piano, pinpoint two ends of the WGC scale, beauty running side by side with disquiet. A few bars in, David Michael Curry’s viola (could be cello, I think – no details from Loose Records on anything much to do with this record) arrives on the scene, reinforcing the unique WGC vibe in his own, distinct style; notes slide disconcertingly into each other, the mood shifting slightly from moment to moment, expressing eloquently the complexity of human experience.
Ghost Republic sees Willard Grant Conspiracy reduced to two core members, Robert Fisher and David Michael Curry, and there are places on this album where the music is stripped down to a real two-hander, the guitar of one man conducting a negotiation with the viola of the other. Mostly though, the two guys have laid down extra tracks as they construct spare but spooky landscapes appropriate to the subject matter in hand. The subject matter is the “ghost” town of Bodie high in the Sierras in California; a place with hot summers and snow-laden winters, Bodie was a boomtown in the goldrush of the late 19th century that partially survived into the mid-20th century. It was abandoned in Marie Celeste style, the ordinary stuff of everyday life left in some of the remaining buildings. It has been in government protection for the last half century as a monument, and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Ghost Republic is WGC’s contribution to a collaborative poetry project around the subject and I guess the whole idea of the ghost town that was once brimming with gold, thriving in the teeth of one of the harshest environments to be found, falls right in with what I perceive to be the core of WGC’s work over the years – which is, to show in stark relief the battle that all human beings face in some measure, the battle to find beauty and purpose in the daily grind of life.
As ever with this band, you’re not in for an easy listen. Harsh, white noise stabs on the electric guitar have their place alongside moments of almost painful, spare beauty, whilst Robert Fisher’s voice can sound like The Grim Reaper paying a courtesy call or like the ultimately reassuring older brother, calm and steady. David Michael Curry puts in a vocal appearance on his own song, Piece of Pie, which kind of comes as light relief, if only because of the higher vocal register. Willard Grant Conspiracy have been known to produce the occasional “pop” song, something easy on the ear that’ll sucker you in, but there’s none of that here. Rather, there seems to be a distillation of all that has made this band so fascinating over the last fifteen years or so, an intelligent grubbing under the smooth surfaces of life to find out what’s really going on. One of their very best, I would say.
Not too much in the way of live footage or the new material that I could find on youtube but the clip below gives you a fair flavour of this band.
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