The Antlers | Hospice
Most Likely To: make Limoncello out of life’s lemons.
It’s not too surprising that critics quickly embraced the latest release by The Antlers. While still inaccessible enough to appeal to Pitchfork, the Brooklyn trio is also mentally taxing enough for NPR’s All Songs Considered. The Venn diagram bubbles labeled “hipster” and “grown-up” have not overlapped so perfectly since Arcade Fire released Funeral almost five years ago. By the time this review reaches the Donnybrook Eliterati, most readers will probably have heard of the band, and surely a few of you early adopters are just a tiny bit sick of them. So, I shall proceed secure in the knowledge that I’m telling you what at least some of you may already know: Hospice deserves the hype.
The Antlers are led by singer/guitarist Peter Silberman whose previous releases include 2007’s In the Attic of the Universe along with several EPs. Though he started solo, Silberman recruited drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci to form The Antlers’ core line up, although it took a few additional musicians to bring Hospice to fruition.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Silberman’s a pretty intense guy, but unless you pick up a physical copy of the CD or download the record’s liner notes it would be easy to miss that he has crafted the year’s most literary record. Otherwise, much of the record’s dark, lyrical core remains inaccessible because the vocals are so quiet or distorted that Silberman’s words are often hard to decipher. The liner notes unveil that all of the songs have secondary titles, including “Sylvia, or sliding curtains shining children’s heads.” The lyric “Sylvia get your head out of the oven” is just one of many references Silberman makes to poet Sylvia Plath. “Thirteen or Sylvia Speaks” includes the lyrical plea: “Dig me out from under this house.” (This is likely a reference to Plath’s first suicide attempt. She took pills and hid in the crawlspace under her family home then eventually used the event as a major plot episode in The Bell Jar.) The band’s website features two portraits of Sylvia Plath painted by Silberman, which are identical except in one of them he has replaced her eyes and mouth with blackened holes. Oddly enough, this jarring image also symbolizes The Antlers’ music: a gentle paint-by-numbers innocence abutting the darkest spots in the human condition.
I’ve often thought that nuanced music is just repressed. It’s rock and roll. Why whisper when you can scream? But on Hospice , The Antlers put musical dynamics under a microscope. Whether quiet or loud, each note actually sounds magnified. Hospice is less about individual songs than it is about musical moments, though there are a few tracks that stand well alone. “Bear” is Hospice’s most melodic and accessible offering. “Two” builds tension with shaky percussion and strident vocals, which make Arcade Fire comparisons inevitable. “Thirteen” breaks into lush, shimmering strings that die away completely before Sharon Van Etten’s tiny vocals break through the silence.
Throughout Hospice , The Antlers hobble towards hazy euphoria on a gimpy leg by choosing only the darkest and most dire approach for their lyrical subject matter, a handicap that makes their success that much sweeter.
Listen to “Two” from The Antlers: