D. Gwalia – The Iodine Trade (3 stars)

A bleak compendium of scratched-out song collages and apocalyptic portents

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D. Gwalia – The Iodine Trade

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 a 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 ghosts of post-Pink Floyd Syd Barrett at his most insular, with 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-doped choirboy vocal. Second track ‘Vamp’ 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 in between 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 cookbook 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.

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