The New-York based Antlers emerged as a major power in post-rock with
Hospice (Frenchkiss, 2009),
a psychological concept album that displays rare storytelling acumen for rock musicians. Conceptually,
Who's rock operas,
Gentle Giant's In A Glass House ,
and, more recently,
the Eels' Electro-Shock Blues,
Cursive's Domestica and
Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
are the obvious references, but the Antlers aim for a more metaphysical
and far less glamorous ground.
Peter Silberman's unstable, nervous and quivering vocals complement his lyrics,
and the even more tormented and elegiac soundscape created by
guitarist Darby Cicci (also credited for trumpet, banjo and keyboards),
drummer Michael Lerner and bassist Justin Stivers constitutes a third line
After the instrumental Prologue, a
Coldplay-ian litany introduces
Kettering that soon accelerates into controlled melodrama.
The soundscape is dirty enough to eliminate any suspicion of grandeur.
So the waltzing nursery rhyme of Shiva relies on
artful jazzy drumming and sloppy keyboards for additional pathos.
So the magniloquent Sylvia sounds like
Guns N' Roses covering a pop ballad, replete
with horn fanfare, but enough eccentric sounds pop up to temper the pomp.
The evolution of a song is also studiedly irregular to throw the listener off
Bear turns an almost a-cappella declamation into a swinging Sixties melody with loud and thick orchestration.
All of these techniques are leveraged in the longest pieces.
The seven-minute Atrophy is a subtle kammerspiel whispered against
jazzy drums, a rollicking drum-machine and tender piano notes. When it picks
up steam, as usual, it reaches extreme intensity instead of stopping at an
affordable midlevel; and so it becomes a piece of abstract electronic music
before it restarts as a spare acoustic confession.
Silberman switches to a whining falsetto for the soulful rigmarole of
Two, reminiscent of
pop populists of the past such as Soul Asylum,
while Cicci and friends weave a thick atmosphere of mandolin and sitar
and all sorts of percussion further aggravate the mix.
The eight-minute Wake employs so many aural detours that one almost
feels the band is trying to distract the listener from the words. Again,
the stream of consciousness explodes in a triumphant finale.
There is a general ideology at work of hijacking every detail so that
the whole is always more than the sum of its parts and nothing is quite
what it seems to be.
Like the 1980s arena rock that inspired it, the sleek electronically enhanced
Burst Apart (Frenchkiss, 2011) is largely an exercise in long-distnace
Peter Silberman unleashes his pyche in the
touching U2-esque ode I Don't Want Love
the falsetto soul ballad over skittish drumming Parentheses,
and the tenderly desolate No Widows, whose keyboards toy with
Doors-ian grandeur and
Pink Floyd-ian angst.
His hedonistic side takes over in the rolling synthetic beat of French Exit, that sounds like an update on Inxs,
and in the late-night cocktail-lounge funk shuffle Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out.
The hypnotic oneiric looping Rolled Together and
the Ennio Morricone-inspired instrumental Tiptoe are the ultimate mood-pieces.
The last three songs were probably added just to reach the size of an album:
any amateur could have done better.
Multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner work wonders
on these mood pieces. They are the ones crafting the soundscape in which
Silbermann enjoys getting senselessly lost all the time.
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