Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Crushing Beauty of The Antlers' Hospice

One way to judge a new album is by both the number of reviews it gets (attention) and the quality of those reviews (engagement). This is particularly true of a lesser known band since you can dismiss the assertion that everyone is reviewing the album because of the band's previous success. And so it is with the latest effort by The Antlers, Hospice, which has been receiving very solid reviews over at the big board--now holding a top ten placement for the year.

When there are so many reviews (and so many well written because the reviewers are clearly engaged with this album), it is somewhat difficult to even imagine where to begin--what to say that hasn't already been said. These reviews cover many wonderful aspects of this album, but the review that best captures what I want to say is not by any of the official review sites, but by My Old Kentucky Blog who has been carrying the flag for these boys for a while now and opens their review with a very appropriate warning.
Allow me to forge a fair warning: The Antlers' Hospice is not an easy record to sit through. With the right focus, in the right mindset, this album is as powerful on the soul as climbing a mountain is on the body. This album will crush you if you don’t know what to expect.
Pretty ominous, but really not all that far off as far as I am concerned. See this album (you did note the title, right?) is an album with a theme (rather than a concept album) and that theme is death and loss. Built around a central relationship between a dying patient and a caregiver, it tumbles through the spectrum of emotions that might occur during and around that relationship, moving from dreamy sad reflections to anger to some sort of understanding and back again to all of that. I am not sure it is the straight narrative the MOKB lays out in their review, but as lead singer and song-writer Peter Silberman writes in the Prologue notes about the story, "it's all connected in these complicated nightmares that we weave."

Now a colleague asked me the other day if I am one of "those people" who obsess about lyrics and I replied that I am probably a bit more concerned with the music than the lyrics, but in this case you cannot ignore either. I really think that if you are someone who has lost someone in anyway remotely like the story here, that this album will be a difficult listen. It is pretty moving in any case, but could be very raw for someone in that situation. And that is because Silberman constructs such a convincing relationship (whether real or not) and so the bond and tension and loss are palpable. That is not to say that this is some simplistic narrative--it is not. The songs are more about moments in time and stages of a relationship.
And the music is just as important. The Antlers are clearly going to be seen as part of "the Brooklyn scene" as I have already seen comparisons to Grizzly Bear and their are moments that are very Walkmenesque here, but that just gives you context. The album, for me, is divided in two parts. The first has a number of slower, grainier, and noise-infused songs with the vocals woven into the music as if someone is trying to emerge from a hazy dream--although "Sylvia" clearly has a chorus of angry outburst in it where Silberman rises above the music. The second half starting with "Bear" (which might be the highlight, but also doesn't fit the narrative as neatly as other tunes) emerges from that murkiness with more clear acoustic guitar lines and melodies (although "Wake" brings us back to that dreamy desperation).
It is an album that if you are to accept, you must both buy the sound and allow for the premise. But if you do, it is a powerful set of ten songs that will surely garner critical acclaim this year.
To give you a sample, I am including the second and third songs on the album which provide a good sense of the opening half of the album in both it's quiet, fuzzy, contemplative orientation and in its searching, combative sound.
Kettering (got the no share message on these too--but check out the video!)
And then to give you a sense of the second half of this album and The Antlers in general, here is a wonderful video of "Two" which is probably my favorite song on the album.

So, get on over to French Kiss and buy this album if you think you are up to it.

1 comment:

Kirikou_koukou said...

For real the video is hypnotic or is it the song !both... great