The Antlers’ Follow-up to Hospice Doesn’t Disappoint


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.

What remains is the Silberman’s on-record persona, a three-dimensional character exhibiting eminently realistic neuroses. The majority of Burst Apart works as a diary of its narrator’s frustrations, not just lyrically but musically -- as on the ethereal, minor-key bounce of “Parentheses” --  with Silberman’s tenor the defining sound of an otherwise stylistically varied collection of tracks.

“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.
A word on that voice: it’s probably the Antlers’ most credible claim to fame, a sublimely evocative instrument capable of conveying shame, naivete, resignation, and genuine longing, often in the same breath. Perhaps as importantly, it brings their sometimes arena-sized arrangements back down to a more approachable scale.

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.
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