Friday, 6 February 2015

D. Gwalia – The Iodine Trade (Elizabeth Volt Records)

Three stars

D. Gwalia has cut a shadowy figure around the unsung sidelines of Edinburgh's myriad of low-key music scenes. Originally from Wales before taking a peripatetic path to Oxford, Gwalia's cracked folk and strung-out gothica was first heard on his 2010 debut, 'In Puget Sound.' This follow-up digital-only release charts even starker terrain in a bleak compendium of scratched-out song collages and apocalyptic portents which conjure up the strung-out ghosts of post Pink Floyd Syd Barrett at his most insular, all whimsy lost.

This is most evident on the opening 'A Day Out', in which a sparse but insistent electric guitar pattern is eked out behind a Mogadon choir-boy vocal. 'Vamp', which follows, is Bauhaus' 'Dark Entries' rewritten for the troubadour age. A martial drum-beat adds to the mood of 'Annihilation Pair' before ushering in the muffled spoken-word narration of the album's title track, which sounds like free-associating ransom note confessionals transmitted through a broken walkie-talkie.

The austere music-box backing to the similarly styled 'Alan's Machine' sounds even more menacing, while a sepulchral piano guides 'Illuminations', a collaboration with composer James Young, author and former keyboardist with ex-Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico during her late-period Manchester years.

All of which conjures up the wayward spirit of the Virgin Prunes, Gavin Friday's wild-child collective of grotesque misfits who mixed up their demented brand of dressing-up box industrial noise-making with the messy shriek of performance art. Here, however, Gwalia sounds abandoned, left foraging in the dirt of a Ballardian nothing-scape inbetween spitting out spiteful little whispers in corners while busking to no-one after dark.

A buzzing fly is swatted at the start of the deathly cook-book incantation of '400°F', and 'Darling Where's My Nuclear War?' is possessed with both the acoustic guitar melody and sense of ennui of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'. Finally, 'Sleeping in Abandoned Cars' is a wordless nine-minute electronic chirrup through the aftermath of a blast where seeking shelter is not an option.

ends

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