This is the 4th album from London-based progressive rock band The Gift, released June 2019. A conscious part-move away from longer symphonic pieces that characterised their previous two albums, it retains their typical sound. For me, there’s a slight eighties vibe which may have actually been at odds with their intent, as vocalist Mike Morton described Antenna as “…rockier, more contemporary sounding – we wanted to do something more direct and punchy. Whilst there’s no concept, a lot of Antenna is about how difficult it is to communicate, how we’re sending out messages and they don’t hit the target”. Ah well, goes to show how everyone hears something different in a song.
Let’s first look back at the Gift: formed in 2003 when Mike Morton hooked up with Leroy James, they allowed their prog tendencies loose as a duo, sharing all instrumental and vocal duties writing a 45 minute epic called ‘Awake And Dreaming’. This concept grew, requiring additional musicians to realise its scope. They recruited session musicians Jim Thomas and Rod Haverhill on bass and keyboards respectively, and David Storey (The Enid) on drums. ‘Awake And Dreaming’ was completed by summer 2005 and was the first of two tracks that formed the debut album released by Malcolm Parker’s Cyclops in late 2006. A 21 minute, 5 part epic ‘The Comforting Cold’ is centrepiece along with ‘The Willows’ of second album, ‘Land of Shadows’, which was a long time coming due to band and personal ups and downs. After 10 years away from the project, Leroy James returned to the band. Gabriele Baldocci, renowned classical pianist and Trinity Laban Conservatoire teacher, became The Gift’s keyboard player. Bassist Stef Dickers has been with the band for three years and Neil Hayman, also of Konchordat, is on drums. ‘Why The Sea Is Salt’ was released October 2016, seen as classically inspired, technical and a melodic tour de force. And now comes ‘Antenna’.
‘We Are Connected’ signals the album’s overall intent – concise structures, earworm riffs and clever instrumental interplay. The guitar on this one could have been early IQ. ‘Changeling’ is a lengthier track, its three part structure working well and showing the band’s technical musicality.’Back To Eden’ has the jangly jollity of the Cure. ‘Long Time Dead’, despite the Supertramp harmonica opener, reminds me of World Party, its clever blues-tinged intelli-pop rock, like Martin’s vocals, reminiscent of Karl Wallinger at his best. For ‘Snowfall’, think those emotional slowburn Genesis songs Undertow or Snowbound. ‘Far Stranger’ finds them in a jazzier mood with cool tones, clever chords and references of earliest Trespass-era Genesis for me. ‘Hand In Hand’ is a pleasant instrumental guitar interlude before ‘Wild Roses’ with an almost Thin Lizzy vibe that is broken only by classical prog instrumental breaks, Martin’s chameleonic vocal this time referencing Phil Lynott. ‘When You Are Old’ has an eerie Anthony Phillips meets Eno menace due to its incessant eighties era programming and minor-major chord interface. During the three-part ‘Closer’ there’s syncopated positivity, suddenly launching into frenetic retro-prog instrumental play, before an acoustic section that echoes Camel (Rajaz) and ending with probably the best instrumental section on the album.
I get where singer Mike Morton is coming from. There is a directness, there is plenty of punch and power. So the sum of the parts is a welcome diversity, this listener’s musical antennae tingling with enjoyment, metaphorically applauding the musical songwriting gift and player talents on show. No miscommunication there!
- We Are Connected
- Back To Eden
- Long Time Dead
- Far Stranger
- Hand In Hand
- Wild Roses
- When You Are Old
Mike Morton: vocals
David Lloyd: electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Leroy James: electric guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar, harmonica, backing vocals
Stefan Dickers: bass and acoustic guitar
Gabriele Baldocci: keyboards
Neil Hayman: drums and percussion
Written, arranged and performed by The Gift
Engineered, produced and mixed by David Lloyd
Mastered by David Elliott for Bad Elephant Music