Review Summary: An album both tranquil and exciting.
Silence can play such an immensely satisfying role in music. It can spice things up without actually doing anything, creating tension, lending more weight to the sounds that surround it. It creates space, and can lead to quite the funky groove. Of course, some artists can take it a little (too?) far, culminating in the infamous 4'33" by John Cage.
Still, some artists use it to great effect. A very recent example can be found on Flore, the fifth studio album by Gabriel Rios. Rios was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to Belgium when he turned 18. He had a big hit in the Benelux with Broad Daylight in the early 00s, a track that already explored the possibilities of silence. It was an excellent song, and it brought him a successful career. Afterwards, Rios released several albums, exploring different sides of his rich background. Yet for some reason, Flore, which was released in February, 2021, feels like his first truly confident and fully fleshed out statement.
The album is brimming with lovely touches and small experiments. This time, he focussed on the sounds of his Puerto Rican youth, creating stripped down and barely recognisable versions of songs that his father would play. His father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s during the writing period, has been a big inspiration to Rios musically. Six out of the album’s eight covers were introduced to Rios by him. Flore is Rios’ first fully Spanish record, but it does not at all sound like what you would expect when hearing it was built up out of Latin classics from the 1960s. Describing it to Belgian newspaper De Tijd, Rios jokingly referred to it as his Gothic Caribbean Record.
And, weirdly enough, that statement is very applicable to Flore. It is full of dark, brooding moments, but keeping it light and elegant with stately string sections (Marinera), touches of flute (La Torre, can’t wait for Summer to blast this through the open windows), sudden breakouts of choir, that recede as quickly as they came (Flore), and soft hand claps (El Ratón), among others. But throughout all of the record’s 45 minutes, silence is a recurring theme. It creates so much room and space, that it is an impressive feat that the record did not collapse. The title track, for instance, slowly meanders into a section that features a soft drum, with some echoing synths in the background, and nothing else to distract the listener.
Ausencia, one of the album’s early highlights, incorporates all of these aspects into a gorgeous number, with Rios singing in all registers accessible to him, from low, soulful voice, to higher belting, and even some tastefully applied autotune. Luckily, even that divisive technique is used successfully here. But it is the infinite space to breathe in, the room left between the instruments and the singing, the silence, that makes it all work so successfully.