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Rui Gabriel – Compassion (Carpark Records)

If you’re stuck in a cycle of wanting to change, but circumstances keep presenting new ways to prevent you moving on, you might want to dip into Rui Gabriel’s debut solo LP, Compassion.

Departing from the ever so slightly noisier, post-punk sounds of his band Lawn, Gabriel turns to ethereal pop, slacker-rock, and piano-driven dance music to present an easier, more melodic side, served with generous scoops of vulnerability and introspection. This new approach shapes Gabriel’s authentic voice (never a holler or scream), into ten songs firmly grounded by his own lived experience of turning from a carefree drifter to embracing the responsibilities of adult fatherhood.

Opening track, ‘Dreamy Boys’ sets the tone, with Gabriel’s words dealing the double sucker punch of the inevitability of growing old, while not appreciating the good times while they’re happening. “Dreamy boys, their roaring twenties, so annoyed and overjoyed by backlit spaces” captures the essence of carefree youth, while urging a slowdown to appreciate life’s nuances: “Good days will get to you, and bad days always happen.”

Compassion is stacked with standout songs, the first ‘Target’, was written after the abrupt end of a friendship. “I became fixated on the aftermath and realised that the emotions behind these circumstances were more intense than anything I’ve felt in any breakup”, Gabriel says. Its barely heard, delicate piano melodies frame Gabriel’s hushed vocal as it harmonises beautifully with Kate Teague‘s backing. ‘Target’ explores the tensions and messy miscommunication of trying to move towards resolution. This theme is echoed later in the equally compelling ‘Change Your Mind’, a slacker-rock take on facing up to new priorities with its ‘Stepping Out’ type beats and ear worm chorus. Key track, ‘Church of Nashville’, is a biting commentary on the music industry and its gatekeepers. Born in Venezuela and raised in Nicaragua, Gabriel’s lyrics slice through the pretensions and challenges faced by an outsider in a predominantly white, English-speaking music scene: “…like the things that don’t warrant public understanding/ Much more like a process devoid of male, white empathy / These men move around to show the idiots exactly/ What’s what”. Elsewhere, Gabriel is joined by Stef Chura on the misleading sunshine indie rock of ‘Summertime Tiger’. Its vibrant catchiness and fixed, beaming grin sound like the brimming essence of a summer hit, but listen harder and the candied veneer starts to peel away. Written from the perspective of one far from qualified to be handing down advice on self-improvement, the song critiques the patronising idea of ‘working on yourself’ when it’s hard enough to find paid employment.

Throughout Compassion, Gabriel masterfully balances these moments of critical introspection and social comments with upbeat, danceable tracks. He also throws in warm contrasts, to keep things interesting. ‘If You Want It’, for example, is a tender love song that celebrates the joy of companionship and the beauty of simple things. Gabriel’s calming words coupled with its downtempo chill create an intimate bubble around the listener, placing us in the moment alongside him. The simplicity and symbolism of ‘Hunting Knife’ with its naive rhythm and guitar conjures a nostalgia and realisation of the passage of time. As Gabriel reminisces about teenage years and the inevitable dawn of adulthood, you can’t help but reflect on the friends you lost touch with along the road. Lines like “I think about your hunting knife, the cheapest thrill, the high reward” trigger a longing for simpler times and the bittersweet nature of growing up.

Co-produced by Nicholas Corson, the album features contributions from Duncan Troast (The Convenience, Video Age), Stef Chura, Kate Teague, and Lawn’s Mac Folger. This ensemble brings further richness and diversity to the album’s sound, elevating Gabriel’s introspective songwriting into an interesting journey through personal reflections and life lessons. Compassion should resonate strongly with fans of Conor Oberst, Ben Gibbard and Andy Shauf. It occasionally tips into more eclectic territory, ‘Eyes Only’ for example circles way back to the original slacker, Lou Reed, for its sleepy barroom rock and roll hooks. In contrast, ‘End of My Rope’ tunes into DIY bedroom dreampop to convey the darker fringes of how it feels to reach your limits in a close relationship. Closing track, ‘Money’ is a ’90s-inspired indie anthem, with its banging piano hooks and chorus chant of “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon just don’t do it”, it drags us out of the gloom towards an uncertain but self-compassionate future.

Gabriel sums up Compassion as “saying goodbye to the mentality that I had before and hello to becoming an adult”. More than that, though, it is a mature and multi-layered shift from post-punk to a more pop-oriented sound. A bold and refreshing debut that hints at a promising solo career.

‘Compassion’ is released 21st June, via Carpark Records.

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Victoria Conway


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.