December 9, 2023

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GIFT: Momentary Presence Album Review

“When You Feel It Come Around,” the opening track of GIFT’s debut album Momentary Presence, is a familiar psychedelic mission statement. “You feel it come around/It’s time, it’s time/You leave it all alone/It’s love, it’s love,” TJ Freda gently sings over waves of flickering ambience. Far from the abstract zone-out it may initially seem, the song is about Freda learning to navigate years of anxiety attacks. From there, Momentary Presence offers an abundance of transporting sounds, exquisite layers of warped guitars and synths that suggest lose-yourself transcendence. Yet the album more directly depicts a journey of re-centering—not dismissing the value in venturing out into psychological seas, but also re-embracing the shore.

There are whole histories of psychedelic music collapsed into Momentary Presence: Creation Records-style coos and swirls, guitars phasing in and out like early Spiritualized, bold new wave synth melodies, the sonic immersion of shoegaze. Freda is the person behind almost every sound on the album, and he crafted much of it from his Brooklyn apartment. While the novelty of world-building from a bedroom and a laptop isn’t groundbreaking in 2022, it does speak to the interplay in Freda’s project—grappling with interior thoughts and emotions while seeking a balm in the most expansive sounds.

To get there, Freda went to therapy and dove into Ram Dass’ Be Here Now, a pivotal document adjacent to the original psych-rock heyday. Freda’s own title, Momentary Presence, conveys a similar prompt, with a good portion of his lyrics fixating on seizing or embracing the beauty of fleeting moments, being present with an experience whether euphoric or traumatic. Freda sings things like “Lost my head and found it on my face” in a song called “Share the Present”; the album concludes with the sentiment, “Here and now, the time floats by.”

Freda keeps the album in that present with sharp spins on recognizable sounds, grounding each mantra with hooks. “Gumball Garden,” a pre-pandemic vision of waking up in a world where everyone has suddenly disappeared, rips through about half a dozen addicting guitar lines, including one big fuzzed-out attack that’s like the best riff Tame Impala haven’t written in the 10 years since Lonerism. The similarly propulsive “Share the Present” sighs above a glimmering, cascading synth motif. While those and other rockers like “Stuck in a Dream” are often the highlights, the greatest achievement on Momentary Presence is “Feather,” an airy and patient reckoning with somebody who is struggling and can’t, or won’t, be helped. Inspired by a lucid dream, “Feather” plays like a melancholic watercolor recollection until the beat intensifies three-and-a-half minutes in, lending the song a new urgency.

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