Grawlixes: Set Free (Home Alone/Southbound)

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A Fine Rain
Grawlixes: Set Free (Home Alone/Southbound)
This debut album for the Wellington indie.folk duo Grawlixes – Robin Cederman and Penelope Esplin, with violinist Alex Vaatstra in places here – appeared while Elsewhere was elsewhere so we missed their tour.

Are we disappointed on the evidence here?

Although the title track is an uninviting dirge as an opener – even at just two minutes it feels long – better immediately follows in the more desperate sounding and driving Good Shadow, then the oddly cold sexual passion of the almost funereal Lover Boy which upsets both its melodic and lyrical expectations.

Clever and weirdly engrossing, if a bit near the raw nerve-ends.

What follows thereafter sounds like a very fraught relationship starting, hitting road bumps and huge doubts (the suspended judgement of “we can find some more reasons to be lovers”) which grow like cancer.

Then their world is peeled apart and the entrails inspected for clues as to the why . . . and the protagonists' emotional lives and their motives.

Oddly however, the autopsy begins while the victims are still alive and the final song is I'm Moving In where one of them is glowing with anticipation and the other is still burdened by a past . . . which leads into the song's final lines and the inevitable disillusion.

There are some refined but loaded lines here (“she's the ball you would unravel with tender threats and wine”) and a disturbing intimacy about a song cycle in which at least one of them comes off as a needy depressive, although that accusation seems to shift depending on the vocalist.

So we need to be clear: The album's title suggests emotional liberation, but what's here is often claustrophobically self-analytical and forensically insightful.

There is a great tradition in folk of such critical analysis – Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights, John Martyn's Grace and Danger by way of example – but Grawlixes' musical settings (with the exception of the dramatic Death in the Family) don't have the melodic, dynamic or sonic breadth of those totemic markers.

So, not an easy ride.

But obviously a harder one for them.

A former couple . . . if you hadn't already guessed.

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