Parting Gift
Ensom


2.5
average

Review

by JohnnyoftheWell CONTRIBUTOR (72 Reviews)
March 25th, 2019 | 12 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Actual loneliness, or just missing the point?

Parting Gift are a fresh group from Manchester whose style is probably best described as ‘progressive post-hardcore’ but is more accurately one of those contemporary genre cocktails that passes as innovation for bands who play 100% rock music but want to cultivate (read: superimpose) atmosphere without sacrificing the basic structure and arrangement of what are doubtless reliable live numbers. That is to say, it grasps for the stars and regular gig-goers in equal measure and ends up with limited results on both fronts.

The first thing that jumps out here is the production, which epitomises pretty much every stylistic embarrassment that mars the aural aesthetic of 2010s guitar music. Think of A Lot Like Birds' sound circa DIVISI (sorry) and then apply this to a set of ‘atmospheric’ songs so superficial in their atmosphere that their reverb might as well count as its own genre. Oh, and then strip out its budget so that what at its best would come across as obnoxious gloss and sheen here comes out as overcompressed guitar mush, inaudible bass and an EQ metric that seems to disintegrate anything sub-3000Hz, squeaky clean vocals, and the deadbeat trope of slathering everything the periphery of the mix in superethereal soundscapes but leaving the drums crystal clear right at the centre with every beat landing crisp because yes why wouldn’t we want to hear the kick drum land like your DIY-obsessed neighbour hammering nails into a new piece of dubious tack without respite all bloody weekend. At least Deafheaven had the decency to use their kick drum to augment the low end of the mix and save the mids for their snares.

As for the soundscapes, they just about hold up but more as a constant backdrop to the rest of the sound than an interesting interactive component. Some will say it’s ‘shoegazey’ because there are washed out keyboards with layers upon layers of reverb, but the arrangement is too sterile to be genuinely atmospheric in and of itself and the keys’ habit of copying whatever is going on in the main chord progressions does not elevate them. In the same way that the 1975’s insipid forays into ambient instrumentals do not constitute post-rock, this is not a shoegaze hybrid, although the constant expansive texturing reminds me of more interesting and successful experiments with that style, like what Shinsei Kamattechan achieved on Tsumanne. For those unfamiliar, Tsumanne is a morbidly depressive outing of irreverent dream pop that has almost nothing in common with this EP aside from some vague textural similarities, so the fact that it is both evoked and made to seem an attractive alternative for me is most likely due to this album’s inefficacy to hold my attention and should not be taken as a good sign by any means.

I don’t enjoy throwing young bands under the bus and (while entirely relevant) these aesthetic complaints are hardly exclusive to Parting Gift. Hell, I don’t even know how much autonomy they had in the mixing of their album (although it would be patronising to impose that level of suspension of disbelief). Perhaps they should be seen as the victims of a tasteless stylistic convention rather than architects or perpetuators of it. I certainly feel somewhat clement given that their songwriting has some encouraging elements of ambition and the performances are reasonably energetic in a way that sometimes pierces the production and glacial atmosphere and other times is subsumed by it.

Pale Skin and the title track are the best examples of how the band play their atmospheric sound against more intense rock sounds; this fusion generally works and is primarily held back by the production, predictable song structures and a string of vocal melodies pulled straight from the emo recycling mill. This sounds like a worrying quantity of stumbling blocks, but the songs are pulled off with enough momentum that none of them counts for much individually. On the other hand, 3-07 (Moonlight) and Cold are less upbeat affairs that engage more directly with space and atmosphere; while neither of these makes any outright missteps, their vagueness and forgettability is indicative of the superficial role of atmosphere on this EP.

And then there’s the six minute centrepiece Without Sin, which serves as an apt encapsulation of all Ensom’s strengths and failings. The song’s opening explodes into something momentous and finally captures that panoramic scale that the tone and aesthetic of this release seems so firmly directed towards, only for everything to be sunk by a tepid chorus with bland vocals that recycles the opening’s grandeur and does not benefit from playing out like a note-for-note copy of Arcane Roots’ Resolve. A mixed bag, then, but not without its moments.

The biggest misgiving I have about Ensom is over what its attempts at epic scope and majesty are actually in aid of. It’s stylistically ambitious, but I’m still somewhat unsure what the substance of the EP really is. The band don’t have much apparent chemistry, relying on functional but straightforward arrangements, and the lyrics are over-earnest pseudo-poetic prattle that sound as second-rate and naff as the production stylings. The album title is apparently Danish for ‘lonely’ (similar to the German ‘einsam’) but it is beyond me what this adds to character beyond a nod towards a face-value lyrical preoccupation with, erm… loneliness. Still unsatisfied, I went on a hunt for interview material and was rewarded with the following soundbyte about Pale from frontman Zac Vernon:

“Pale is the emptiness one cannot escape. It returns when the mind is idle. It seeks no endgame. It lives and breathes pain and it is the opposite of love. In Pale, the sacred grounds appear for the first time.”

Now, I might be all out of good faith at this point, but if this isn’t indicative of a focus on styleless style over resonant substance, I don’t know what is. Parting Gift’s performance here gives me the impression that they are (rightly) excited about their attempts to experiment with style and scale, but they come very far from making either of these things their own here. A little more inspiration in the songwriting department and more character in arrangements across the board would work wonders here, but at the end of the day there’s enough blandness and tastelessness here that just about any shake-up of the band’s current formula would be welcome.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
March 24th 2019


15447 Comments


Great review man. They remind me of Secret & Whisper somehow but not as good. I see potential but they are far from it just yet.

Digging: Ioanna Gika - Thalassa

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
March 24th 2019


13566 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thanks pal! Haven't heard of Secret & Whisper, are they more worthwhile shoegazey hardcore?

Digging: Blonde Redhead - 23

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
March 24th 2019


15447 Comments


Pretty much post-hardcore emo like this but with a really good singer. Check this track:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfOeFRu9-GU

Don't watch the live version though lol

JesperL
March 25th 2019


370 Comments


this is basically that holding absence record but with a bit more talent. they were quite enjoyable live, recorded it lacks a lot of the intensity

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
March 25th 2019


2840 Comments


Some particularly awkward phrasing in what is, otherwise, a great review: "think of how A Lot Like Birds circa DIVISI (sorry) and then"; I don't think "face-value" works too well as an adjective (something simpler like surface-level makes more sense to me); "what at its top end"; "tired to death" is a bit odd the way its used here; "an apt encapsulation of all the Ensom’s strengths and failings".

Just small things like that. Again, I loved reading. Your general tone is super engaging, I wish I could write like that, but your expression could be simplified a bit in places -- your sentences become a tad too winding and that leads to a lot of typos which I imagine are terribly difficult to catch in proofreading (God knows I suck at this) but matter because they make the reader stumble despite some otherwise-gorgeous prose.

Tranqyl
March 25th 2019


309 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Well written review, but I gotta say that I disagree with it tremendously. I didn't expect to like this album as much as I did, yet it scratched a sort of shoegazey post-hardcore itch that I didn't know I had. As Jesper said, it's at the very least better executed than Holding Absence. Their latest release was a bit like an aural ambien.

Digging: Black Hill and heklAa - Rivers & Shores

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
March 25th 2019


13566 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@Blushful thanks for your criticism and kind words! All amended; I generally need to up my proofing/redrafting game tbh, will do my best to resist posting as soon as I have a finished and vaguely proofed first draft from now

All opinions aside, glad some of you are enjoying this

Supercoolguy64
March 25th 2019


8808 Comments


farting gift

Digging: The Shizit - Script Kiddie

fromrows
March 26th 2019


230 Comments


Good review!

Digging: Melvins - Hostile Ambient Takeover

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2019


13566 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thank you!!

Laen
April 15th 2019


162 Comments


three songs in and I already came

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
April 15th 2019


13566 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Damn take it easy



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