The Antlers first garnered widespread acclaim in 2009 with the release of Hospice, an always-sincere, never-melodramatic concept album about the narrator’s relationship with his cancer-stricken significant other.
The album’s overwhelming success derived not from subtlety -- of which Hospice is generally devoid -- but from honesty: with frontman Peter Silberman's staunch refusal to deal in archetypal characters, from his narrator’s painful ambivalence and his subject’s even more painful desperation.
The Brooklyn indie trio's follow-up, Burst Apart, inevitably lives in the shadow of its predecessor. But while Silberman has foregone an album-length concept this time around, he has maintained the approach that kept Hospice from what could have been, in the hands of a lesser writer, exploitative self-indulgence.
What’s new is the electronic influence -- witness the synthesizer breakdown on “French Exit,” or the Radiohead-esque ambient sound of “Rolled Together” -- a substantial, but not unwelcome, jump-shift from the more direct, folk-inspired arrangements of Hospice.
“You wanna climb up the stairs, I wanna push you back down,” Silberman half-whispers on opener “I Don’t Want Love,” establishing a pathological ambiguity that continues through the guilt-ridden “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” and the almost embarrassingly earnest balladry of “Hounds” and “Corsicana.”
It’s a masterful exercise in tension, a steady build of conflicting perceptions and emotions that culminates in the cathartic release of “Putting the Dog to Sleep,” Silberman’s most direct and unrepentant vocal performance on the entire album.
Even when he reaches his highest register, a sort of operatic yelp, you get the sense that Silberman is more concerned with his own redemption than with reaching the rafters -- which explains why the Antlers manage to avoid both the histrionics and emptiness that plague so many of their peers.