Gabrielle Herbst's background in modern composition informs her work as GABI, but on her debut album, Sympathy, she uses her training to create music that isn't pigeonholed easily. Her voice -- which ranges from piercing highs to mournful lows -- is the album's main attraction, and she surrounds it with instrumentation that's just as versatile and evocative: strings, melodic percussion, the occasional guitar, and subdued electronics combine into songs that distill feelings with a rare purity and clarity. "Koo Koo," Sympathy's first single, uses all these elements in an exquisite portrait of longing that feels like a prelude to what she delivers on the rest of the album. The longer tracks are among the finest, showcasing her skill at taking listeners on an emotional journey. Herbst wrote many of these songs with a multi-track loop pedal, and a circular, cyclical feel guides tracks such as "Da Void," where regret flows into yearning and ebbs back again in a way that's empathetic and spine-tinglingly beautiful. Here and throughout Sympathy, GABI's artiness never feels distant or overly complicated; more often than not, she strives to make music that sounds essential, if not conventional. "Love Song," with its chanted vocals and almost subliminal rhythms, feels ancient and avant-garde at the same time, and could just as easily soundtrack an invocation as a modern dance piece. It's not a typical love song by any means, yet its caressing echoes are more intimate and eloquent than a more elaborate song might be. Similarly, on "Where," Herbst turns the simplest question ("Where would I go without you?") into a deep, searching mantra. She imbues each of Sympathy's tracks with a sense of discovery and wonder, as well as a distinct sensuality: as "Mud" rises from the ground to the stars, bowed, plucked, and scraped strings echo its physicality and ethereality. "Falling," meanwhile, is stark and chilly, with swooping beats and bass that convey a more desperate, imposing kind of love. However, both songs excel at getting listeners to slow down and allow themselves to be transported -- one of the many reasons Sympathy announces GABI as a significant talent.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares