Gabriel Bruce’s debut album comes with glowing praise from Spector’s Fred MacPherson, who has known the Londoner since they were teenagers. MacPherson previously told NME that Bruce is “brilliant”, before adding: “He writes lyrics that I wish I’d written, and will probably try and steal at some point.” Bruce’s debut album has certainly been a long time coming – he originally started out in a London band called Loverman – but the wait has been more than worth it.
The first thing that sticks out when you listen to Gabriel Bruce is unquestionably his deep, brooding voice. It’s incredibly distinctive and powerfully alluring, not to mention the fact that it will draw inevitable comparisons with the holy trinity of deep voices Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Johnny Cash. But there is much more to Bruce’s debut album Love In Arms than just his distinctive vocals. As MacPherson has pointed out, he is an intriguing lyricist and he makes music that is quite different to anything else around at the moment.
This is no better exemplified than by the thrilling opening to Love In Arms, Dark Lights, Shine Loud, which also just happens to be the first single from the album. It’s easy to see why it was picked to kick the album off, too, with a thumping beat and razor sharp guitars providing the basis for Bruce’s ferocious, growling vocal. “Summon all your villagers and just take my life/ you’ve gotta rid yourselves of evil,” he sings, as the infectious opener bursts from the blocks. It is followed by the brooding Honey Honey Honey, which sees Bruce’s vocal drop even lower over a driving guitar riff.
There’s no doubt that Bruce has chosen the first couple songs from Love In Arms in order to grab the listener and it works. However, other than Cars Not Leaving – which features a pounding rock beat and glossy synths – the rest of the album is far more thoughtful and melancholic. Sleep Paralysis – Bruce’s breakthrough song – is quite morbid lyrically and in sound, as Bruce sings “I got this feeling I were dead” repeatedly over a haunting, slow-burning organ. It’s the first of several tracks on the album that draws a favourable comparison with The National – another band who focus on brooding, world-weary sounds and feature a baritone vocalist in Matt Berninger.
The beautifully poignant six-minute piano ballad All That I Have is another track that brings to mind Ohio’s finest. It’s a simple, but remarkably impressionable song, one which demonstrates the strengths of Bruce’s wonderful lyricism: “What’s a little death in the scheme of survival/ I know that it’s true because I read in the bible.” Elsewhere, Greedy Little Hearts builds on a triumphant organ and rumbling bass, while Perfect Weather sees Bruce’s deep-baritone vocal at its very best, as he embodies Nick Cave over a jaunty brass section.
Love In Arms is an impressive and accomplished debut album from Gabriel Bruce. It also manages to avoid the trap that many albums fall into when the vocalist has such a distinctive vocal, with the positives of Bruce’s debut LP not constrained to his commanding vocal chords alone. Love In Arms depends on much more than that. In fact, Spector’s frontman was right to draw attention to Bruce’s lyricism, while his earthy instrumentation is steeped in drama and gothic tones. There have been some excellent debut albums out this year already, and Love In Arms stands comparison with them.