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Captured Tracks
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August 23, 2024
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The year 2020 sure wasn’t the most ideal time to form a band, especially for a group of musicians who never played together before. But for New York rock quintet GIFT, whose members assembled on a lark in the Big Apple from roots as diverse as Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Brazil and Boston, this strangest of periods was the auspicious backdrop for a bold new sound – a dizzying blend of early shoegaze, classic ‘90s alternative rock and even modern pop.

Indeed, that GIFT emerged somewhat fully formed on their 2022 debut album Momentary Presence was a testament to the creative possibilities laying deep within, and it wasn’t long before the band was pricking up the ears of adventurous listeners both at home and across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, Illuminator, their Aug. 23 debut album for revered New York independent label Captured Tracks, is the long-awaited payoff of GIFT’s ever-growing musical and human chemistry. And while nods are apparent to label forerunners such as Beach Fossils, DIIV and Wild Nothing, GIFT are shepherding those elements into wondrous new vessels for the present moment – sleek, often danceable and frequently mesmerizing.

GIFT – vocalist/guitarist TJ Freda, multi-instrumentalists Jessica Gurewitz and Justin Hrabovsky, drummer Gabe Camarano and bassist Kallan Campbell – are firmly enmeshed in the New York scene as talent buyers, photographers, DJs, audio engineers, art directors and, in the case of Campbell, an owner of the beloved Brooklyn DIY venue Alphaville.

The melting pot of these varied skills helped make Illuminator an even more cohesive listening experience. A relative newcomer to making music herself, Gurewitz contributed a host of lyrics and vocal melodies, while Camarano’s drumming provides the crucial rhythmic underpinning to the album’s 11 tracks. Hrabovsky, who previously engineered at Asheville, N.C.’s beloved studios Drop of Sun and Echo Mountain Recording, shared production duties with Freda for the first time.

“We had a lot more confidence going in,” Freda says. “The main goal was to take a big swing, embrace the pop sounds we love and clear the mist and clouds surrounding the last record to make it a lot punchier.”

GIFT previously introduced Illuminator with “Wish Me Away,” their first new song in the 18 months since the debut. With its earworm guitar lines, propulsive rhythms, riveting vocals and mind-expanding aural flourishes, “Wish Me Away” is the perfect sonic springboard from Momentary Presence to where GIFT are going next. It’s also a potent reminder that you can still preserve that twinkle in your eye even when you feel like everything’s slipping away.

With GIFT repping the emerging New York scene for Captured Tracks, Freda admits he “felt a strong responsibility to make the best record possible. New York has featured a lot of post-punk and garage rock over the past decade, and we’ve just always wanted to do the opposite to what everyone else is doing. There’s a new wave happening here much like there was in the early 2000s and 2010’s, yet nobody is talking about it. It’s going under people’s radar.”

That’s likely to change once the word is out about Illuminator, which sounds overjoyed every moment it is shaking up the sonic status quo. With new and unabashed inspiration from artists as wide-ranging as Madonna to MGMT, GIFT generates a dynamic genre fusion on Illuminator with just the right spritz of electronic elements and widescreen pop production techniques.

On songs such as "Light Runner", "Going In Circles" and “Destination Illumination,” Freda also demonstrates a newfound confidence and versatility, embracing pop music as a vehicle. “At our shows from the Momentary Presence tour, people would stand in the crowd wide-eyed without moving,” he recalls. “We wanted to get people moving with the new album, so we were really inspired by bands like Primal Scream, Oasis and Massive Attack. It’s our psych-rock tribute to U.K. rave culture in the ‘90s.”

The message behind GIFT’s new creations was just as important, with Freda, who has struggled with anxiety, channeling more of his raw feelings into the lyrics to a much more dramatic degree than on the debut.

“I don't want to feel sad when I'm listening to music. That's never been the goal for GIFT,” he says. “It was always meant to be this escapist yet freeing euphoria that anyone could go out and dance to and feel amazing. But I also wanted to talk about some real feelings. There's this duality between darker lyrics underneath a joyous pop structure.”

That duality is apparent on “Wish Me Away,” which Freda accurately describes as having both a joyous and ominous energy. “The line ‘wish me away’ kept coming up, as in, take me, not them, or just put me out of my misery,” he says. “It’s the whole whimsical nature of how delicate life can be.”

To be sure, the relentless, often painful dance of love has never sounded as exhilarating as on “Going in Circles,” while the strident tone poem “Water in My Lungs” conjures the unreal feeling of watching a romantic partner both figuratively and literally fade from view. “This album has a lot of themes of going fast, time passing and things changing,” Freda says. “These moments can change in a split-second and affect the rest of your life. For better or worse, it’s hard to control that. Instead, sometimes you just let yourself be taken – like you’re surrendering.”

GIFT’s instinct to push forward was further inspired by a growing friendship with Sonic Boom (Pete Kember), a key member of shoegaze/experimental rock legends Spaceman 3 and producer for bands clearly influenced by his own music, including Beach House, MGMT and Animal Collective’s Panda Bear.

After connecting over a shared contribution to an A Place To Bury Strangers remix album, the musicians met up at Kember’s home in Portugal for a big dinner with he and his wife. They wound up staying up talking until dawn. “He gave us a lot of sage wisdom about always remaining curious and not overthinking it,” Freda says.

It’s no surprise, then, that Illuminator leaves on a sanguine note with “Milestones,” encapsulating the highs and lows traversed before. “For me, it evokes the sensation of witnessing your entire life – past, present and future – in a single moment,” Freda says. “It’s nostalgic, yet filled with hope.”

Throughout, Freda and company thankfully do much of the hard work for us: falling in love, heartbreak. Watching events and moments go by like cars on the highway. People you once knew coming in and out. Grieving the loss of different phases. Watching everything happen simultaneously. For these and many other reasons, Illuminator, friends, will be the soundtrack to the throughline of your life.

Digital Tracklist

  1. 1 Wish Me Away 3:58
  2. 2 Light Runner 3:35
  3. 3 To The Stars And Back 4:10
  4. 4 Going In Circles 3:36
  5. 5 It's All Too Fast 4:16
  6. 6 Falling Down 3:30
  7. 7 Destination Illumination 3:32
  8. 8 Later 4:28
  9. 9 Glow 4:08
  10. 10 Water In My Lungs 3:40
  11. 11 Milestones 4:29


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