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Rui Gabriel – Compassion

As he’s grown up, Rui Gabriel has moved further and further north. He was born in Venezuela and raised partly in Nicaragua before emigrating to the U.S., where he settled first in New Orleans. There he entrenched himself in the city’s indie rock scene, recording three albums with the band Lawn that married post-punk intensity with pop melodies. Recently he and his family moved way up to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he recorded his solo debut. Compassion seems to draw from different stages of his life and different places he’s lived—and from all the people he’s been along the way. 

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A rumination on compassion as a muscle to be flexed or an idea to be made manifest, the album chronicles not only his coming of age but also the unexpected fears and concerns he faces as someone who finally considers himself an adult. “Summertime Tiger” sounds like a breezy bit of juvenilia, its chorus so shamelessly catchy that it threatens to tip over into twee. Yet the music’s exuberance masks the lyric’s dark feelings of isolation and depression, revealing Gabriel’s knack for exploring the tension between a bright, shimmery arrangement and messy, uncontained emotions. 

The best songs on Compassion are candy bars with razor blades hidden inside. “Target” is imaginative yet sleek, as Gabriel sings about weathering conflict without succumbing to bitterness or recrimination: “We solve arguments by talking, not by yelling at a target,” he sings, and the lines might sound like therapy-speak if he didn’t invest them with so much generosity. He can be a low-key vocalist, with a deep, deadpan delivery, but that only makes the moments all the more affecting when his voice threatens to break. 

Co-produced with Nicholas Corson (Video Age, the Convenience), Compassion expands Gabriel’s palette in new and unexpected directions, as though he’s been scavenging in the used CD bins. “Dreamy Boys,” which floats along on a cello and piano, sounds like Nick Drake in a cornfield, and closer “Money” culminates with a keyboard part that sounds like Primal Scream or Happy Mondays. He erects “Church of Nashville” on an unlikely foundation: what sounds like a ‘90s alt-rock radio sample from Sugar Ray’s disreputable ’99 hit “Every Morning.” One of the album’s finest moments comes late in the song, when what sounds like a frog belching through a saxophone enters out of nowhere, bolstering the song’s main rhythm and dispelling any cynicism in Gabriel’s lyrics. 

Over the past few years, the Hoosier State has produced some oddball pop artists distinguished by their eccentric takes on pop music, including Kevin Krauter (Indianapolis), Amy O, and Mike Adams at His Honest Weight (both in Bloomington). Krauter, who plays in the band Wishy (currently touring with Gabriel), even has a similar song built on a Sugar Ray-inspired beat

Whether Indiana is a destination or another stop in his journey, this statewide community seems to have welcomed and inspired Gabriel: Compassion is more mature but also more daring than any of his previous work—wiser but more innocent, weirder but more focused. GRADE: A-

You can check out Compassion at Bandcamp and elsewhere.

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