Autumn is considered by many to be a season of bountiful harvests, and in the music world, it’s no different–we’re getting absolutely spoiled. Momentary Presence, the debut album from Brooklyn-based psych-rock group GIFT, is no exception. Drawing inspiration from the 1970s spiritual guide Be Here Now, the album seeks out bliss in the present, bandleader TJ Freda penning a sonic and lyrical ode to a world where that present is worth holding onto.
The album’s lead single, “Gumball Garden,” is a dreamy yet danceable track with that classic psych rock guitar, complimented by shiny retro synths. You’d never expect them to work, but the sounds mix together into a fluid and colourful product with a distinct shoegaze vibe.
“I wrote this song way before most people knew what the word pandemic meant,” Freda said. “I had a dream in late 2019 where I woke up one day and there was nobody on earth. I was walking around looking for any forms of life to no avail. It was sad but also strangely peaceful. When the pandemic happened, this song took on a whole new meaning. We did wake up one day and the streets were empty. Everyone had gone away.”
The lyrics are straightforward, painting a portrait of this empty world, but its frankness only gies it more power.
“This song is about finding peace in solitude,” he went on.
Other singles followed–the second, “Feather,” is a haunting synthy tune that almost threatens to consume itself in its echoes and delays, with synths piercing through deep, introspective soundscapes. The third and final single before the album’s release, “Share the Present,” brings the album’s themes front and centre. Once again, the retro shimmery sound is alive and well, with dreamy descending arpeggios that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1980s. They place the track in a sort of liminal state, both nostalgic yet here and now.
“Being present is the most important thing you can do when you are feeling down,” Freda said.
“Don’t dwell on the past of who you were. Look to the present moment and appreciate who you are and where you're going.”
The rest of the album is an equally enticing experience, sampling from across eras yet also holding a decidedly modern sound. This is illustrated perhaps nowhere better than the opening track, “When You Feel It Come Around,” which is carried by ethereal gated synths and dreamy, spacey vocals.
“This song is about stillness among chaos,” Freda said. “The 2 years leading up to writing this I had been experiencing regular anxiety attacks. Through therapy and the book “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass, I discovered the concept of being “with yourself” not “BY yourself”. The difference being you are never alone, you are always with yourself. When You Feel It Come Around is about recognizing when a feeling is coming and centering yourself. Like a mantra.”
Of course, the range GIFT showed in their singles isn’t lost here, either. Momentary Presence swings between synth and psych rock, that liminal shoegaze blur adding a unique colour to the sound. Tracks like “Lost For You,” dubbed a “bittersweet breakup song,” is decidedly more psych rock, but there’s no whiplash between it and other tracks. Everything sounds distinctly GIFT, which is an impressive feat.
And where the band plays with sound and genre, it also lets itself play with theme. For all the songs about being in the present and sticking by yourself no matter what the world throws at you, there are also songs about Dune (pre-Timothée Chalamet, Freda’s quick to point out) and string theory. The latter actually inspired the final track, a seven-minute epic and an excellent closer.
Overall, Momentary Presence is just what it sounds like–a reprieve from the busy day-to-day, inviting us into this strange, spacey world to be with ourselves and live in its sounds for a bit. It’s an experience, proper.