Essential New Music: The Gift’s “Altar”

In its native Portugal, the decades-old the Gift is a moody marvel of alt- art-pop: an electronically induced ensemble led by its co-creator, writer and keyboardist Nuno Gonçalves, to be something of a bull in the salon—a variation on the themes of a (far more somber) Talking Heads or latter period, Heathen-era David Bowie. With those reference points, it’s no wonder that the Gift has called upon the talents of Byrne/Bowie producer and collaborator Brian Eno, not only to twiddle the knobs behind Altar (with Flood as his mixer, no less) but to co-write, play and sing. Despite Eno’s vocals taking up space with the Gift singer Sónia Tavares’ on the dashing, ascending “Love Without Violins” and such, Altar is happily the Gift’s alone—just Eno tweaked. The steely synth-pop of “Clinic Hope,” the clackety world-soul of “Malifest,” the bounce back of “Big Fish”: Each track feels epically layered, yet oddly open, and the entirety of Altar seems jigsaw puzzle-piece fit and interlocking. Impressive.

—A.D. Amorosi