Label: Luv Luv Luv
Released: 6th May 2013
Deep. This feels like the most appropriate adjective to use for ‘Love In Arms’, Gabriel Bruce’s long-awaited debut. From his lip-curling baritone, to the self consciously wry yet earnest, almost evangelical lyrics, to a sonic palette that sounds somewhere between Nick Cave and a latter-day David Bowie, this is an album that has a lot going on.
Take songs three to six. At the start of this little triptych is ‘Sleep Paralysis’; a stark, echo-laden ballad that Bruce offers us a mere eight minutes in. With a muffled count-in and funereal organ intro, the song nominally explores the immobility that can happen in the space between sleep and wakefulness. For Bruce though, this stasis becomes a metaphor for life in which a god, “although he loves all of us, [has] given up on me.” If the topic itself weren’t grim enough, the chorus line, “I’ve got this feeling that we’re dead and there’s nothing more” is a pretty brazen slogan of nihilism. Driven along by a drum beat that sounds like the prelude to an execution, it’s all the more of a shock when the song explodes, two-thirds in, to a rich bass-line that is simply glorious.
That this is followed by ‘Greedy Little Heart’, is the masterstroke of the album. The latter is the closest Bruce comes to an indie-pop song and yet still starts with ‘Paralysis’’s same macabre organ. Building up to the positively jovial “oh, you’re making me stronger, I can’t take it much longer” however, takes the euphoric explosion that ‘Paralysis’ began and brings it to a fullness that showcases the thoughtful craftsmanship that has clearly gone into crafting this album.
Which only makes worse the shame that is ‘El Musgo’, a song which perfectly crystallises the album’s flaws. Taking the organ that formerly provided atmospheric darkness, the song brings it centre-stage to create a reverential dirge with all the warmth, atmosphere and scope for enjoyment particular to an abandoned coffin. Even worse, Bruce’s leering tones become lethargic and dull such that at five minutes forty-seven, the whole experience feels like drowning in treacle.
That said, ‘El Musgo’ is certainly the worst song on an otherwise fascinating debut. Bruce has clearly mastered the art of creating his own sense of broody, spiritual ambience but has also managed to make it damn enjoyable to listen and move about to. Album opener ‘Dark Light Shine Loud’ for example, will have you chanting the words “Summon all your villagers and just take my life” for at least a week, ‘Zoe’ sounds like it’s fallen off the back of a deliriously lurid, Californian, eighties Noir soundtrack, and ‘Perfect Weather’ sounds like a moment of desperate happiness faintly whiffing of U2 – and it’s all the better for it.
It’s just a shame that the song which follows it, ‘Sermon On The Mount’, is a shrieking revamp of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Halleluiah’, while tracks like ‘All That I Have’ and ‘If Only In Words’ smart that bit too sharply of pious morbidity to really take off. In the end, what transpires is that on ‘Love In Arms’ the lines between ‘brilliant’ and ‘a bit rubbish’ are incredibly thin. An indie-disco hit, or a gorgeous ballad are only a blink away from dead in the water mediocrity and if you’re not patient with the album you might be tempted to write the whole thing off. Don’t though. It’s worth it.