Antlers, The – Hospice

Several weeks ago, I was granted the opportunity to meet Peter Silberman, the frontman for The Antlers, a bloggers’ favorite music project for the past 3 years since the release of the Cold War, a small record even by EP standards, yet just as emotionally impressive as it is tantalizingly brief. I stood in the courtyard of the capacious Firestone Pub, out from which wafted the soothing, yet frivolous melodies of indie rock staples Minus the Bear, a “patron saint” of sorts of teen indie rock.

Peter, alongside keyboardist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner, after having finished their vibrant set, peddled Hospice t-shirts hung from wire racks and CDs from a transparent plastic bin behind a collapsible table, which separated the trio from crowds of half-drunk couples stumbling and humming off-key renditions of Pachuca Sunrise, callous frat boys drooling over their half-drunk girlfriends, and the occasional eager music connoisseur such as myself.  Being more intrigued by Peter than Minus the Bear, I found myself here, talking face-to-face with the craftsman of one of the most magnificent musical releases of the year.

The two of us talked casually for a good 15 minutes, I struggling, though successfully, to suppress my child-like elation at meeting this fascinating individual. Admittedly, I was drawn to this character, he and I both being dog persons, but mostly because of the perpexing pall of sorrow that seemingly grips this brilliant musician.

On stage, his voice trembled and cracked around tender melodies brought to life by dynamic dark blue and red lighting. In person, his countenance was friendly, but reticent; I could sense the semblance of a deeply troubled soul beyond his visage. Myself unaware of what personal experiences influenced his writing and being disinclined to ask, fearful of his possible sensitivity towards the subject, I turned instead towards their newest album, Hospice, re-released several months ago by Frenchkiss Records, to satisfy my natant curiosity.

Hospice is by no means a casual listening album; it is likely to invoke little more than a couple shrugs to the inattentive. Yet the album quickly reveals its value to those who allow themselves to sink into its effervescent sea of sounds. Darby’s keyboard bathes tracks such as “Kettering” and “Thirteen” in layers of sonic depth that flow, twist, and envelop the listener like fog. One can easily find oneself lost in the thickness of sound alone. This, however, is just a minor dimension of the music when compared to the vocals and lyrics, which provide the majority of the value to the album.

Peter Silberman claimed that he wanted to release an album that could be universally identified with, one that weaved a story that every listener could sympathize with, and it accomplishes this goal to great effect. His story is a tragic hospital drama that explores the bitter depths of human sorrow and tragedy. Peter freely pours out emotionally-charged vocals that talk of sharing pain, losing loved ones, and letting people in.

The prologue begins with a sudden rush of thick synth effects and faint vocal chorus. The track has a heavily dramatic tone, while still successfully managing to avoid sounding bombastic or cliched. “Kettering,” a solemn address to a moribund loved one, follows this track, adding a human element to the picture. The chorus of “Sylvia” serves as a nice crescendo, breaking the precedent of quiet whispers and crackling synth with passionate vocals and amplified guitar.

While most of the tracks on this record serve to develop the album as a whole, it’s not without its singles; tracks “Bear” and “Two” are perhaps the strongest on the record, but their accessible format fortunately does not mitigate their emotional impact. “Bear,” perhaps the most lyrically concise, follows the tragic story of a couple who, with child, decide to abort their “cub.” Their relationship is like that of “strangers” and it is revealed, through impassioned vocals, that the decision to abort was made because the two are “terrified of one another and terrified of what that means.”

The singing on “Two,” unlike that on “Bear,” is rapid and relentless, yet still tinged with just as much crippling emotion as any of the other tracks. The album’s epilogue ends with a similar vocal scale as Bear, but contrary to what one would be inclined to think, it does not trigger thoughts of repetition; instead, it manages to invoke a warm nostalgia.

Hospice is not a record to be listened to; rather, it is a record to be immersed in, to sink into and be carried away by. At times, the listener will feel weightless as the music carries one away upon its richness of emotion. Hospice is a memorable record for the way in which it emotionally engages the listener: by breaking the boundary between author and listener and allowing the latter to share the former’s cathartic experience.

As Peter states in “Wake,” the hardest part is “letting people in.” Perhaps it’s not as hard as he insists. Mr. Silberman should be proud of himself for releasing one of the best albums all year and perhaps one of the most emotionally evocative releases of the decade.

by Mason “Grown men cry too” McGough

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