the antlers – burst apart

– featured image courtesy of the artist – 

*this column has long lay dormant, and is truthfully being resurrected primarily to celebrate the fifth anniversary of one of the most important albums to this site and its existence.  maybe subsequent additions will be made, and maybe not; that’s the beauty of complete autonomy.

Peter silberman’s music under the moniker of the antlers first appeared in 2006.  his sparse confessionals, punctuated by a hushed falsetto developed and honed partially out of necessity, populated early efforts like the eerie in the attic of the universe; by 2009, silberman had added multi-instrumentalist darby cicci and drummer michael lerner and had offered up hospice, an undeniable pillar of twenty-first century indie rock and one of the most devastating concept albums ever recorded.

throughout the record, silberman alters between tender reassurances whispered at a metaphorical terminal patient’s bedside and heart-wrenching frustrations vented at full volume out in the hallway, a dichotomy compounded by percussion crescendos and thick walls of keyboard textures.  hospice is an emotionally exhausting album, and following up a body of work with that critical of a magnitude is a tall order.

turn the calendar ahead two years and enter burst apart.  the antlers’ second full-length as a full band is sonically the furthest thing possible from a sequel to hospice; the trio goes spelunking in the cavernous depths of spooky, spacious tracks like “parentheses” and “rolled together,” while silberman’s guitar work is decidedly more minimal, more inclined to add texture with cyclical motifs and arpeggios rather than to function as the driving force behind most songs.

perhaps due to their initial involvement in the album’s creation, cicci and lerner feel less supplemental on burst apart.  the former’s trumpet chops are consistently underrated but integral to the trio’s timbral construct, not to mention his celestial synth pads, while the latter’s drum kit is a forceful presence on all tracks, save penultimate ballad “corsicana.”  consequentially, the album retains a fully collaborative air, with the intense lyrical depth and cohesion of hospice funneled into an incredibly tight ensemble interplay that could be (and often was) extended effortlessly in a live setting.

on record, burst apart tends to steer clear of the post-rock grandeur that makes its predecessor feel so gargantuan.  inner demons are often exorcised with the assistance of a murky, hypnotic pulse and their significance is sussed out under the guise of haunting chamber pop; no track on burst apart exceeds the six-minute mark, and most conform to radio-play length.

this more streamlined approach also found silberman largely abandoning his penchant for detailed narrative.  such instances were doled out judiciously and to great effect (see his tear-jerking return to metaphor on closing number “putting the dog to sleep”), but cryptic minimalism often reigns supreme, from the aforementioned “parentheses” to the stoned, slow-burning “rolled together” to “hounds,” the most arresting, flat-out beautiful five minutes of burst apart.

five years on, burst apart endures.  each of its ten tracks is commendable in its own right; if nothing else, they’re stellar examples of the trio’s ability to write pristine, focused pop songs within the relative confines of their sonic climate.  new listens constantly yield new discoveries, from the presence of some truly interesting, murky bass lines to the impressive mandolin work that silberman routinely slides into unassuming tracks.

burst apart is a clear touchstone for the antlers’ subsequent output; the watery organ in “putting the dog to sleep” foreshadows the aqueous and astounding 2012 ep, undersea, while the overall orchestration hints at the majesty that would fully bloom on 2014’s familiars.  much like hospice, this is an album best-suited for nocturnal consumption, but unlike its predecessor, burst apart doesn’t necessarily demand isolation.

peter silberman’s lyrics are arguably paramount to the antlers’ canon; on burst apart, his bandmates match that poignancy with some truly mesmerizing compositions.  dig in.

the antlers – familiars

when the antlers released burst apart three years ago, it was clear that the album constituted a make-it-or-break it scenario for the band; their 2009 album hospice, the brooklyn trio’s debut effort as a collaborative project, received immediate, almost unanimous universal acclaim and catapulted the antlers into the indie spotlight.  luckily, burst apart was a suitable follow-up and a substantial success in its own right, but frontman peter silberman still finds himself confronted with inquiries about hospice, more than five years after the album’s release.  although there are those who still can’t let go of the past, silberman certainly isn’t one of them.  the antlers’ newest effort, familiars, is a lush musical experience that all but abandons the outfit’s signature heartbreak.

while silberman is the face and the voice of the antlers (after all, it was his initial solo project and his emotive metaphor that began to turn heads), familiars is an environment that finds all three members contributing equally.  a large portion of musical direction seems to come from darby cicci, the multi-instrumentalist responsible for much of the texture on the album.  previously confined to a primary role of keyboardist and an explicit secondary exploration of trumpet, cicci has full reign on familiars; many songs have a foundation of acoustic piano, layered trumpet, and michael lerner’s drums, further augmented by extremely prominent bass lines (also courtesy of cicci) that slither throughout the chord progressions and give the antlers’ sonic palate a more organic low end.

instead of silberman’s guitar largely defining the album like it did on hospice and, to a lesser extent, on burst apart, the instrument has the chordal support of the piano and the occasional melodic support of the trumpet, making the moments where it truly separates from the texture that much more meaningful.  take “director,” the album’s centerpiece, for example: although the ostinato guitar riff is arguably a staple of the song, the instrument doesn’t really begin to take control until the descending riff and subsequent counter-melody kick in halfway through.  underneath is that warm palate, full of drums and resonant bass that, although devoid of the trumpet in this particular instance, help the antlers firmly place a foot in the realm of jazz that has so long been an influence.

though a musical liberation of sorts for the antlers is present, silberman’s lyrical and vocal progressions are less discernible, relying even more so on subtle nuances.  his falsetto lamentations are still there, but silberman showcases a desire to return to his natural range, even dipping into lower, haunting extremes on “doppelganger.”  lyrically, he’s more of a wildcard; “hotel” is extremely sparse yet somewhat confessional, as silberman admits “i rent a blank room to stop living in my past self,” while “parade” traces a more narrative style and lacks any type of hook.  one constant that remains throughout is a sense of ambiguity, as silberman seems to strive less to attach an explicit meaning to each song and instead explore more inclusive, multi-dimensional emotions.

familiars is nearly an hour of slow-burning which may inevitably put listeners into two broad camps: those that dismiss the album due to a perceived sense of stagnancy and those that appreciate it for its nuances and painstaking attention to detail.  the latter of these two camps is the best lens through which to view this album.  the antlers continue to expound and expand an incredibly complex and dense aesthetic, and provide another body of work that demands to be addressed before the reminiscing can begin.

8.9/10