Review Summary: By now, it's obvious that post-rock was a red herring. Surprise! Gifts From Enola is actually an instrumental post-hardcore band that happens to have a love for post-rock atmospherics.
When I thought about reviewing 2009's phenomenal From Fathoms, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out just what makes Gifts From Enola's songwriting so memorable and fresh, for what seems at first like standard guitar-driven post-rock. But by now, it's obvious that post-rock was a red herring. Surprise! Gifts From Enola is actually an instrumental post-hardcore band that happens to have a love for post-rock atmospherics.
While From Fathoms remains my favorite of their albums -- it's more sprawling and more of an adventure, and I happen to like every detour it takes -- the Gifts guys wisely acknowledged their sudden identity-acceptance with this self-titled. The meandering post-rock subtleties of their very early material is mostly gone, replaced by confident, denser songwriting and nuclear stockpiles of energy.
Vastly improved production values help showcase that unbridled hardcore adrenaline, but these songs would still sound relentless if Justin Bieber's backup band covered them. This album could hurt you. Drums are pushed way up in the mix, thudding and propulsive as a cannonade; each hit sounds like something died as a result. Every bass line sounds something you'd pay money to ride. The guitars drive it all to a breakneck pace, and remain some of the most versatile in any scene, instrumental or otherwise. Nothing is outright super heavy -- there are no breakdowns like in From Fathom's monstrous "Trieste" -- but only because the songs move too fast, mixing grittiness with serenity, and often at the same time.
Take Alagoas, which has quickly become one of my favorite songs of the last few years. The song is a perfect summary of everything Gifts From Enola does so brilliantly, without being too flashy about it. I can't think another post-rock or post-metal band that's able to conjure as many fantastic riffs as these guys, and still spin that guitar-driven density into something that's also multi-layered, suggestively textured and fully coherent. For every shift and switch-up, the music never loses focus, and Gifts' personality is clearer than ever before. It may not be their most ambitious album, or even a perfect one, but this is unquestionably their defining album. Gifts From Enola's music has a remarkable vitality, the ability to sound fresh and interesting even after dozens and dozens of repeated plays. An achievement like that takes more than creative genre-bending, or even passion. There's no equation I can think of to give a record such energy -- but whatever it is, Gifts From Enola has it.