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White Noise: The Antlers – Burst Apart

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Antlers – Burst Apart

The Antlers' last album was about as ambitious as indie-rock gets. A narrative concept album about an abusive relationship with a woman dying of bone cancer; it set beautiful lyrics and cloying hospital gauze-rock onto an emotional widescreen and it was an absolute triumph. Since its release its been on my list of most treasured albums. So how could The Antlers successfully follow up with their major-label sophomore album, coming from such an emotionally damaged place?

The answer, rather disappointingly, appears to be that they couldn't. They made the sensible decision to not try another concept album, and the over-arching narrative and crushing emotional depression has vanished to be replaced by... blandness, apparently. It's almost hard to say anything beyond that about this album, in general it's shockingly bland.

Pete Silberman's aching falsetto and beautiful lyrics made up a big portion of the emotional weight of the last album. His voice is still great, and the lyrics sometimes shine when he resumes the acidic lover's observations found so frequently on Hospice ; “Everytime we speak / You are spitting in my mouth” he sings with venom on French Exit. However in general he's gone for a more vague, interpretable style to his lyrics now and it just doesn't quite work. Much of this has to be down to his musical accompaniment, which sadly is unfailingly weak across the album.

On Hospice, The Antlers got the hazy hospital layers down to a tee, but in this album, apparently more influenced by electro, the instrumentals are endlessly predictable. Opener and lead single I Don't Want Love is vaguely catchy, but it is structurally formulaic and fails to really pack a punch. Every time they try a different atmosphere it just comes off sounding kind of half-baked; French Exit's more 'upbeat' sound has more than a passing resemblance to lounge music with some synths clumsily laid on top, and Parentheses is clearly supposed to be a darker track but the creeping bassline sounds like its had its venom removed. Because the sound of Hospice was such an overwhelming wash it seems when the haze is removed these instruments are detached and, to be honest, they sound fairly unenthusiastic. There's never any genuine punch to the drums, and the guitar melodies are consistently weak. There's just no strength here.

It may seem unfair to compare the album so endlessly to their previous work but frankly I'm incredibly disappointed by this LP. Hospice was a masterpiece and seemed to have enough skill behind it to show that even if their follow-up wasn't great it would be good. And midway through the album we get Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out which has a catchy vocal hook and some improved lyrics (I really can't understand how he wrote such poetry before but ended up with half-cooked vagueries with such unoriginal themes for this album) ; but it's not that great, it's okay. In later track Corsicana the Hospice sound is somewhat re-evoked with a heavy reverb on a haunting piano melody, but it feels slight compared to wealth of superior and similar songs they've produced in the past.

The second half of the album isn't that bad, it's passable (apart from dreadfully overblown closer Putting The Dog To Sleep). So if this was from a random band I hadn't heard of I'd just ignore it, I wouldn't have given it a second listen to see if there was anything under the mesh of blandness. But this was The Antlers, who up until now I had nothing but respect for, so I gave it another listen, and another. But I just feel let down. It's plain that repeating the raw emotional power of Hospice wasn't a good idea, but they've gone too far the other way and these tracks end up feeling weightless and sterilised. Let's hope for better next time.


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At 5 August 2011 at 13:18 , Anonymous Marc said...

I like your taste...
What did you think of the last Bon Iver?
Have you got a lastfm's page? :)
(mine is here : http://www.lastfm.fr/user/MarcPandaBear)


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