The Gift – Altar
This is an album with quite a pedigree. Produced and co-written by Brian Eno, mixed by Flood, Portugal’s The Gift has made a statement with their sixth album Altar that listeners won’t soon forget. The ten song collection shows all the hallmarks of Eno’s classic work; the attention to detail, immense musicality, and artful turns that still retain tremendous accessibility. The album, however, equally illustrates the band’s talents – chief writer Nuno Goncalves stands out for many of the same reasons as well as infusing the band’s material with a sense of identity that isn’t easily duplicated. Many bands, at this point in their careers, can be said to be a little too content. The Gift still sounds hungry, however, and are invigorating in their pursuit of realizing new sounds and ideas. Altar is a winner from the start and brings its audience in immediately. The Portuguese quartet is full of artistic fire and life long after most bands have become complacent and lazy.
The two decades of work that the band’s produced has the effect of sharpening their presentation to a sharp point. The beginning track “I Loved It All” is an ideal example of this approach. The band weaves a reflective musical spell with confident intricacy and the influence of Eno and Flood’s efforts in the studio pay off enormous. It is a full sound that nonetheless breathes with astonishing ease. There’s ample polish here and on the second song, “Clinic Hope”, but Nuno Goncalves’s keyboard playing keeps things a little rough and tumble with its aggressive attack. There’s ample musicality despite the primarily electronic structure of the song and Goncalves often discovering memorable melodic touches through his playing. “Big Fish” is another poppier affair, but the presence of electronic instruments in The Gift’s music is always aimed towards achieving artistic effects rather than simply aiming for the lowest common denominator. Brian Eno’s contribution to “Love without Violins” has a bracing effect on the album. This already fine effort immeasurably improves with the chemistry Eno strikes, as a performer, with the band. There’s a slyly employed dark side to the song that never takes full control of its mood but rather makes it a richer, more entertaining outing.
“Malifest” has a totally different personality brought to life thanks to the same ear for risk taking. It sounds like the song is built around its rhythm track and that isn’t a bad thing. The percussion follows interest patterns that occasionally jolt the listener and serve as an excellent way to retain their attention. There’s some inventive use of guitar during the song “You Will Be Queen” and it ranks as one of the straight forward, yet colorful, turns on the album. Their ability to practically skip from style to style while remaining convincing is the hallmark of a powerful artistic unit. “Hymn to Her” is a folk song in spirit, but it has a thoroughly modern feel coming from its performance thanks to the discreet use of keyboards in supporting the guitar. Vocalist Sonia Tavares turns in her finest singing performance on the release. The Gift closes Altar with the evocative track “What If..” and it’s an appropriately grand, but understated, closing number that utilizes a number of different passages while still retaining an overall coherency. This is a band that knows who to work with and, rest assured, they wouldn’t have attracted the attention of auteurs like Eno and Flood if they weren’t capable of headlining the bill. Let’s hope this is the band’s true breakout moment into a global market.
9 out of 10 stars