Gai Toms : Gwalia

In the press release that accompanies this album Gai Toms lays out the key influences on its development. Of the list he offers perhaps Eduardo Galeano's lamenting book, The Open Veins of Latin America, had the greatest impact; it is a history of the rapacious exploitation of a continent, detailing starkly its social consequences - a toll of centuries of enforced, brutal, metronomic misery.

Abrasively polemic in places and always unremitting, Galeano's text is a painful exposition of truth. It hammers to dust any benign preconceptions of the origins of the economic advantage still enjoyed by Europe, and in a casual aside also exposes the debased source of the capital that built the Welsh slate industry.

The relationship between the book and the album is symbolically represented on the CD's cover, where Toms can be found in a Wales shirt, head bowed in solidarity, wearing a striking Indian headdress made of the feathers of native Welsh birds. His last solo album, The Wild, the Tame and the Feral, was very good - bright, warm and accomplished (and, unlike this time, sung in English throughout) - but, with the exception of the title track, maybe just half a notch too polite. Now there is renewed fire, and it is expressed fully in the music.

The collection opens with the stunning Gwalia (Latinised 'Wales', derived from the proto-German 'Walha' meaning foreigners). Built around a long and haunting sample of Eleri Llwyd singing O Gymru, it has a resonant, dubbed-up Pink Floyd feel. A majestic musical essay.

Gwalia's heft is matched by the dramatic, magisterial centre piece Yr Hwyliau (The Sails).

The album is not without its lighter moments though - Chwyldro bach dy hun (Personal revolution) is breezy and uplifting, and the two tracks Lisa Angharad contributes vocals to, the elegant pop of Ewrop (in the form of ornate operatic embellishment) and Tafod (a balmy duet), are particularly engaging. Normal dances and shimmers by.

There is humour too - Costa del Jeriatrica pointedly rhymes its title with 'swastika' over a bingo hall Bontempi beat; you don't need more than fragmentary Welsh to understand the song comes sharp tongued to repeatedly puncture the sad seaside souls of UKIPia with derision.

Whatever the catalysts it is a great record - after just a couple of listens choruses and melodies follow you round with all the dogged persistence of a faithful collie.

To place Gai Toms musically on the evidence of this release you'd have to mention mid-period Elvis Costello, possibly Roger Waters and more probably Gruff Rhys; but it is best just to listen, this is a unique singer songwriter with something to say. I have met a good few people who talk about Toms with quiet reverence - it is understandable - Gwalia sparks with a fierce creative energy; it is nothing short of brilliant.


GAI TOMS I Gwalia (Ochr 1 video)