“Move as quickly as you can/ you’ll never be this young again.”- Never Be This Young
Will Gillespie’s latest album “Learning How to Let Go” is intimate in the extreme. You can hear fingers touching guitar strings. You can hear the air in the studio. You can practically hear the dust floating around the room. Gillespie’s voice is completely unadorned and closely recorded, like he’s singing into your ear without any amplification. The percussion is simple and unobtrusive, letting the guitar and the odd instrumental solo take centre stage, along with the voice. Then there are otherworldly touches of analogue drum machine, which places the album firmly in the present musical climate. It’s an electro-jazz-folk-rock album by a fidgety songwriter who is looking within to find the guidance he needs to navigate the external world.
It’s so personal that absorbing the record almost feels like eavesdropping. The listener is welcomed into a very private world, one where romantic pain, bittersweet nostalgia, and a fear of the divisive effects of technology are mixed into a compelling work of soul-searching introspection. Gillespie is pondering his place in the modern world, and although there are no clear answers forthcoming, the search makes for a compelling listening experience. This album is a slow burn through a lonely night. It is breath and bone, with a digital heart. Simple drum machines rubbing against fluttering guitars, and a world-weary voice that seldom rises above a warm croon. This is folk music for our modern age.
The album opens with a double shot of the aforementioned bittersweet nostalgia. Gillespie dives into his own personal mythology on “Make It Home”, a gentle arpeggio-based tuned that is both a plaintive ode to an old home and an admission of past misdeeds. It sets a beautifully understated tone for the rest of the album, sort of a primer in where Gillespie has been before. “Never Be This Young” explores the relationship between time and memory, and serves to remind the listener that each moment is fleeting, succumbing to the relentless march of time. Acoustic guitars are Gillespie’s paintbrush, and these songs unfurl in the unadorned, unhurried way that is the mark of a master artist.
“I don’t know if I’m still in control / I don’t remember what the world is like outside”- Out Of Range
“Out Of Range” clears the palette with a simple drum machine beat and a droning guitar figure, like a rock song in miniature. The lyrics tackle a vague fear of losing connection, be it due to technology or a physical separation from those we love. There’s a nice little build, where white noise swirls around your head until it abruptly ends with an electric guitar honking into the distance. “Tourist” is a further exploration of disconnection, this time with a vaguely Latin, tropical feel with lots of percussive guitars and beautifully subtle hand drums. “I am only a tourist in your life”, he sings with a palpable sense of resignation. A dark and downcast saxophone lends the song a more jazzy feel in its final bars, where the last line hangs in the air, a question unanswered.
“We all have secrets / You can’t see me”- You Can’t See Me
“You Can’t See Me” is a super-minimalist song about the alienating effects of technology, where Gillespie stalks the night over a barely-there guitar pattern and a menacing electro beat. He becomes the ghost in the machine, peering from your flatscreen while you sleep. It’s creepy and evocative. The mood changes immediately on the next song, “All The Pretty Stars”, which is a gorgeously rendered ode to the beauty of nature, real or imagined. It is soft and pastoral, like a warm summer night. It dissipates quickly, like the memory itself.
“What has happened cannot be undone/ There’s nothing to be afraid of”- Nobody Home
The album’s title track is next. “Learning How To Let Go” is as heartbreakingly beautiful as the title suggests. It’s placement on the album right after “All The Pretty Stars” is suggestive: like those good memories we have of a loved one that are interrupted by the knowledge of their absence. Gillespie admits to his weakness, knowing that holding on to this memory is unhealthy. This is the cathartic heart of the record, where Gillespie allows himself to wallow before rising above the pain. “Nobody Home” finds Gillespie reveling in his newfound freedom, dancing to shake off the cold rush of solitude.
“I’m running like a dog that broke his chain”- Like It’s Stolen
“Like It’s Stolen” is another declaration of independence. Atop a Sun Records-style rockabilly groove, Gillespie rides the highways like a man who can’t stop moving. Some tricky fingerpicking allows him to be his own rhythm section, honouring and expanding the long tradition of blues-based rock songs. “Real World” conjours a cabaret jazz vibe, complete with melodic figures and dynamics reminiscent of Cole Porter or a folkier Gershwin. The whimsical self-examination trick is something that Gillespie learned from these fore-bearers, and he employs it well in this straightforwardly singable tune. “The Magic Is Over” is a simple ballad about acceptance, the kind you write when you’ve truly moved on; with a beautiful melody that hugs you like an old friend. The next song is a companion piece of sort: “Where I Used To Stand” is about seeing your old love with a new guy, and wondering how it all happened. Gillespie vows to move one, with devastating lines like “I can try harder”, just before a plaintive harmonica sings into the background.
“I saw you last night though the eye of the storm/ your heartbeat was pounding, your clothes were all torn”- Eye Of The Storm
“Eye Of The Storm” is an atypical song on the record, one of the dark corners where rage goes to hide. A seething account of domestic discord, it finds Gillespie evoking personal betrayal over a dark folk rock song reminiscent of Richie Havens. “Glad To See You” is sort of the polar opposite: it’s a pleasant and upbeat song about reconnecting with someone from your past, a friend who you thought you might never see again. Sonically, it’s like something from the White Album rearranged by Nick Drake. It returns to one of the album’s themes of acceptance and living in the present, while the past floats by.
Will Gillespie’s “Learning How To Let Go” is a close-up glimpse into the mind and soul of a modern folk jazz troubadour, the kind who used to haunt every bar and café in the world. Combining cold electronics with warm acoustic textures, this is a highly personal listening experience that explores the intersection of romantic love and modern angst. With this release, Gillespie has opened a door into a world that is previously unexplored by songwriters of our age. Technology has only given us more ways to brood about the things that pain us. This album a graceful statement on all the different ways in which memory can haunt us in this world, and the various ways in which we cope with anxieties.