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White Noise: 4 Great Albums for Winter: #2 The Antlers

Friday, 25 November 2011

4 Great Albums for Winter: #2 The Antlers






The Antlers had a lot of press for this year’s Burst Apart (which I personally found disappointing) and their just-out EP, but for me their debut was really something special. An indie-rock concept album charting the narrative of an abusive relationship with a woman dying of bone cancer, it’s one of the few albums that can justifiably be called tragic, and it also serves as a definitive soundtrack to the cold, white, wintry days.

Hospice is an emotional heavy-hitter, and every aspect of the album is tailor-made to make you feel as the narrator does. And although frontman Peter Silberman’s beautiful lyrics, transmitted in a quiet falsetto, are where the album most clearly shines; the instrumentation here does just as much to evoke the suffocation and deep sadness of the story. On Hospice, The Antlers perfected a gauzy hospital sound, as can be heard in the muffled and ghostly instrumental Prologue. Throughout they alternate between hazy, melancholy synth-work, simple guitar melodies and evocative instrumentals to reinforce the emotional weight of each stage of the narrative. Quietly stunning second track Kettering starts things off slowly, establishing the abrasive female lover, ‘you said you hated my tone / made you feel so alone / and you told me I ought to be leaving’ and her death sentence given by the doctor, which overshadows the rest of the album. It sets up a grand emotional arc with rare ambition, and it’s to The Antlers’ extreme delicacy and skill crafting the LP that the lofty heights they reach for aren’t out of their grasp.

The album’s skilled musicianship and snatches of beautiful lyrics are easy to appreciate, but Hospice is an album where every listen makes you fall harder for these songs. The dedicated listener can follow the story through from beginning to end, choosing to pay close attention to lyrics which really do stand up to scrutiny. Every track here feels like a necessary part of the concept, but there are still some that sparkle slightly more than others.  Coming straight after Kettering, the angry Sylvia shows the narrator’s intense frustration with his lover’s sensibility and situation, along with his converse acknowledgement that she can’t be any other way, and that he will look after her regardless; ‘let me take your temperature / you can throw the thermometer right back at me, if that’s what you wanna do okay’. It’s a complex and beautiful sentiment, and is expressed perfectly through the crashing chorus and the knife-edge tense verse instrumentation, with a thin line of discordant static making sure you never quite feel comfortable.

Midway through the album another stunner emerges, flashback episode Bear which reflects on an abortion the couple had in the past. The children’s lullaby tune that threads its way through the track is a fantastic accompaniment to the confused and deluded lovers; ‘we’re not scared of making caves/ or finding food for him to eat / we’re terrified of each other and terrified of what that means’. The lyrics also show the woman’s tendency to freeze out the narrator, ‘we’ll make only quick decisions / and you’ll just keep me in the waiting room’, using smart references and tiny details to flesh out the two central characters magnificently into living, breathing people whose tragedy the listener feels so acutely. The symbolic final image, ‘you sit in front of snowy television / suitcase on the floor’ is a poetic flourish showing just what a keen grasp Silberman has over the language he uses, putting his words to staggering emotional effect over and over again.

With the jangly acoustic single Two the narrator finally realises and accepts the prospect of her death, and it’s a dense lyrical affair with a deeply saddening chorus that goes some way to explaining the woman’s violent temperament. The lilting and absorbing follower, Shiva, deals with her death. The elegant image of the narrator transforming into his dying lover adds a heavy poignancy to the scene, as well as expressing perfectly his love which is unmarred by her difficult attitude, a curious conflict between wanting to be in her place and not wanting to be dragged down with her. His mourning is examined in majestic penultimate track Wake, the process of slowly opening up to your own grief and allowing others to help. It’s a quiet piece and contains some of the album’s most beautiful and poetic lyrics, such as the expression of him rejecting the help of his friends; ‘when your helicopter came and tried to lift me out / I put its rope around my neck’. It ends with what is essentially the only uplifting moment on the album, with powerful percussion driving forward his proclamation, which after the intense experience of the album comes across as a universal truth, ‘don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that’.

Silberman’s unique talent at turning a deeply personal story into a universally empathetic album is nothing short of staggering time and again, and I have nowhere near enough room to go into its depths, for example the interesting recurring theme of the female character creating her own fictions and narratives, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. The barrier between the two states is explored in the unbearably beautiful closer, Epilogue, where the reality of his conflicted memories of his departed love are just as painful as his nightmares about her. The album is closed with two surprises, both lyrically and musically. Lyrically Silberman hints at a welcome memory in penultimate line ‘but you return to me at night just when I think I might have fallen asleep’ but then undermines the image and emphasises the endless conflict in his feelings towards her, even after death, with closing lyrics ‘your face is up against mine and I’m too terrified to speak’. Musically, the guitar drops away to a single fuzzy synth-line, effectively distilling the emotional weight of a lifetime into a single melodic line. It’s a perfect end to a near-perfect album, a release that deserves to be heard time and time again because its depths are so rewarding, and that has earned my undying appreciation for an emotional maturity, precision, and weight practically unheard in today’s Indie Rock scene.


4 Great albums for winter:
#2 - The Antlers
#3 - Beach House
#4 - Joanna Newsom

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At 30 November 2011 at 11:02 , Blogger Tomas said...

Your reviewing output is intimidating! You must be writing constantly. The Antlers didn't completely pass me by when the album was released. My attention was drawn to their music video for Two, but because of the lo-fi sound that was (and still is) so popular, I wasn't able to pick up the lyrics. Now having discovered the live acoustic version of their song, I've picked up the beauty of the songwriting that I completely missed the first time around. I read your review on Friday night, before I went to visit my brother at uni for the weekend. Thanks to your review, I was humming Two for the entire weekend! The album is now on my Christmas list. You're becoming quite the influence!

At 30 November 2011 at 15:23 , Blogger Tom Faber said...

Thanks so much man :)

Hospice is definitely not to be missed.


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