The Gift – Altar

The ten song collection from The Gift entitled Altar represents the band’s sixth release and a new high point in their already exceptional run. Produced, co-written, and guested by Brian Eno, The Gift have enlisted some heavy duty firepower for this release and the association pays immediate dividends.

Eno’s contributions to this collection elevate it past the level of great and make it more of a career defining release – however, this is a fair trade, since the talents driving The Gift, namely keyboardist and writer Nuno Goncalves, aid Eno in realizing one of his own peaks.

Eno has rarely sounded so current and vital; the inspiring effect that working with this quartet has on him is apparent from the first. The Portugal based outfit has long been distinguished for their intelligence and verve they bring to their songwriting and performances but Altar stands, early on, as their greatest achievement yet.

The sheer variety and color incorporated into I Loved It All is representative of the remaining songs. The Gift, working alongside Brian Eno, demonstrates an unerring but restless clarity for where their compositions should go. There’s an interlacing of elements that are perfectly complementary while still adding up to a greater whole. The vocals show the same focus on color and melodic virtues are abundant even in such an artfully turned opener.

Clinic Hope has accessible lyrics married to another varied, ebullient arrangement. It is driven by first class synthesizers that never lay out unduly thick lines and supported by strong percussion that keeps the pulse busy.

The bass is stronger in Big Fish and there are far stronger synthesizer swirls spinning through the number. The aquatic metaphor supporting the songwriting is direct enough without ever being omnipresent and the vocal arrangement is particularly effective for getting the song over.

Love Without Violins mixes things up rather effectively with different vocal aims than earlier songs. They switch things up from a more nasal, hard-edged first half to some nice and lightly ethereal harmonies in the second half. The song, likewise, has a pulse pushing down on the listener from the first, practically claustrophobic at some points, but knows when to pull back some on the reins.

The ethereal qualities present in some of their songs strongly emerge on the track Vitral and the largely solo vocal is among the finest thanks to its patient and highly emotive phrasing. The slow moving grandeur of this piece never comes off too affected and has a loose elegance that many will find enchanting.

The band has some progressive tendencies coming through on this release, but we should use the term carefully. Progressive, in this context, means an interesting blindness to the normal order of things and a willingness to successfully subvert listener’s expectations. Few songs embody that better than the track Malifest. The drumming is wildly creative without ever seeming like too much and gives the performance an unexpected emphasis that hooks you in from the outset.

Hymn to Her is a final outstanding gem on the album with an almost folky quality and deceptive simplicity that immediately communicates with listeners. The gorgeous vocal is fleshed out just a little further by a light keyboard sheen and some uniquely shuffling percussion supporting the performance.

The Gift’s Altar is an often inventive, involving musical and dramatic experience benefiting from the presence of one of the great producer in music history, but the band’s talents are impressive enough as well.

8 out of 10 stars

If you enjoyed a preview from The Gift’s latest album Altar, check out their official website by clicking here. Give them a like on Facebook by clicking here & a follow on Twitter by clicking here.

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