Gibraltarian poet and songwriter Gabriel Moreno is for many the beating heart of the melodic shadows in London’s underground folk scene, flitting between the romance of bohemian anonymity and the royalties of his recent discovery by big-league radio gatekeepers. His fourth studio album follows a decade’s worth of songs for the defeated protest, laments at apathy and odes to artistic purity. With the depth of the feelings he expresses, it was only natural that a lockdown album would follow, decorated here by an origami rat made from his throwaway lyrics: “The planet got its holiday whilst we hide like rodents under the stairs”.
Moreno has the exaggerated turn of phrase that you could mistake for cabaret, along with the dark sincerity of Leonard Cohen; the two make for an incredible conflation. Produced by Erik Woolward who recorded Bill Callahan’s Dream River, The Year of the Rat echoes more intricately than his previous work. When Moreno sings “The void is an anarchist”, it would sound like a joke were it not for the fingerpicked guitar patterns of Cohen’s own ‘Avalanche’ and the sonority of Callahan’s own speculation, while the politico narration of ‘Everyday News’ contrasts the jaded barstool poet with enough song for a musical.
It takes time to nestle into the clarity of Gabriel Moreno’s words, but open the door to his world and it’s hard to close it. Grand abstracts of solitude and fantasy are humanised, addressed directly and waiting for their humoured conversation to follow. Elsewhere, the poignancy of his ballads has never felt more resonant. In a perfect summary of the years just passed: “This is all that we have, so won’t you treat it like we’re never going to part?”
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