Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Gift – Altar

The Gift – Altar 

The sixth album from The Gift is a ten song offering produced and co-written by the legendary Brian Eno and, by any measure, scores as a resounding success. The band’s ten song effort embraces all of the promise and musicality exhibited on their earlier efforts while showing that the quartet is far from a finished product – six albums in and The Gift sounds just as involved in the creative process as ever. There’s no soft pedaling their development – instead, they are just as immersed in pushing themselves as they were with their first album and the bracing amount of inspiration they bring to their performances and writing alike goes far beyond what typical acts are doing at this point in their careers. Altar challenges and entertains in a way few albums or bands ever attempt. The physical and intellectual engagement they bring to their work will prove quite enjoyable to many.  

The balance of emotion and intelligence comes through from the beginning. The immaculately arranged and gracefully woven “I Loved It All” communicates clearly through its lyrics as well – a, perhaps, underrated part of the band’s presentation. “Clinic Hope” and its follow up “Big Fish” show how well they’ve handled bringing together an inexhuastably imaginative musical presentation. The synthesizer and keyboard sounds in each song are strained with vivid color and relentless energy that never abates. There’s a more artful turn coming with the song “Love without Violins” and the influence Eno and Flood bring to the project are probably more present here than anywhere else. These are not artistic conduits who come into projects and soon dominate the final sound with their own personalities. Instead, these artists enhance what the performers can provide and judiciously bring themselves deeper into the process only when it is called for. The song “Vitral” has a strongly introspective, even melancholy, sound and a glittering melody that vocalist Sonia Tavares further strengthens with her own performance. The band often makes their beauty sound effortless and this is one of the best examples of that. 

“You Will Be Queen” shows off an excellent illustration of the effects possible when Tavares and keyboardist/songwriter Nuno Goncalves bring their voices together. It has a mid-tempo, quasi march that never rushes itself and some echo laden guitar to add color. The second to last song, “Hymn to Her”, is quite unlike anything else on the release and surely stands as Tavares’ single best vocal. She really crawls beneath the skin of this track and, despite its comparative musical brevity, provides all the dramatic fireworks listeners will ever require. It couldn’t be more different than the final song. “Hymn to Her”, however, sets “What If…” up beautifully as audiences will find themselves uplifted by the stirring melodic and almost orchestral turn the final two cuts take in their own respective fashion. This is a momentous release for a long-serving band that deserves worldwide exposure. The endorsement of luminaries like Eno and Flood is quite telling – both men are far past the point of doing it for the money – and Altar glows with all the devotion to fine music that its title implies.  

9 out of 10 stars 

William Cline

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