So I’ve had this album lounging around my apt. since June, yet its shrink-wrap wasn’t undone until this afternoon (It hits US shelves tomorrow). However, it might be the coolest thing I’ve heard all year. It’s Explode by The Gift, the fifth LP from the Portuguese alt. rockers, who have actually been bopping around since 1994 (Don’t feel bad if you’re ignorant of them, they’ve made few splashes in the US, aside from a 2003 tour with The Flaming Lips.)
The press release for Explode is accompanied by a “story” of the band that reads like a cross between Bret Easton Ellis’ musings and the treatment of a Hal Hartley film. They apparently met when they were five. They’re the biggest band in Portugal. The four members seem to jet-set across the world regularly, collecting tales of interactions with strangers. Frontwoman Sonia Tavares has an androgynous voice (to put it mildly)… but that’s fine with her; she doesn’t care for female singers anyway (aside from Beth Gibbons). Nuno didn’t like Joy Division growing up, but John did. John loves football. Apparently the DIY tradition is new to Portugal… The Gift are revolutionaries of sorts. They began in a town called Alcobaca, which contained 6,000 people and a monastery; the town watched and discussed one movie a week; they only had two television channels, but they did get to watch Twin Peaks (that… actually adds up). If the band breaks up, Miguel is going to get into animal production.
All a bit heady, huh? That’s okay. I like heady, as long as they can back it up. So do they back it up? I mean, it’s hard not to love this record… although I’m not so sure that it warrants the accompaniment of Belle-&-Sebastiany abstract literature (It might, though.)
I think Explode is a postmodern opera that takes place either in outer space or under the sea (I change my mind with every song.) The songs are about colours and rainbows and mermaids. It’s a bit like a Lisa Frank folder personified (Thank you for helping me with this reference, Elizabeth.) You’ll swear opening track, “Let it be By Me,” was a hit five years ago (It wasn’t… it’s not a Shiny Toy Guns cover either). Explode may be the most complex synth-pop album I’ve ever heard. Explode beckons adults to think and behave like sunny little children and beckons youth to consider something at least slightly more nuanced than a Billboard pop song. The Gift are often reminiscent of Placebo or Kill Hannnah at their best, but with the teen-angst replaced by a consideration for the cosmos (And Sonia Tavares’ voice is as beautifully androgynous as Brian Molko’s.) I’m pretty sure The Gift are more than a band… but I’m not exactly sure what that might be.