January 4th, 2010

The Antlers
Review Date
: January 4th, 2010

Reviewed By:
Not Yet Rated

'Two' and 'Bear'

I don't even know where to start with this one. But I guess I'll start with the easy part. The Antlers - Hospice is by far and away the best album of this year. My favorite album from last year, The Stills - Oceans Will Rise was grandiose on an apocalyptic scale. Not so this year around. Hospice is a down to earth account of something we all have or will have to experience in our lives. I want to not but probably will ramble incoherently about this record. So here we go.

I first discovered this band and this album in September when I went to the High Noon Saloon around 4PM (to be exact) to meet a friend and enjoy the final day of Madison's own Forward Music Festival (check it out next year if you haven't yet!). I walked into the bar on a beautiful day, sunlight was shining through the cracks of the windows, something I've never gotten to see before at the High Noon...it's my favorite venue but I usually attend on an evening pitch-black show. The Antlers were playing. They are a three piece group but what I heard sounded like a beautifully organic and depressed orchestra. I stood in place, amazed. I got chills. I only got to hear two songs, but they made a huge impression on me, obviously. Such a perfect and beautiful day but the music I heard was both epic and gut-wrenching. This feat most definitely carried over to their full-length album, Hospice.

Now, for more reasons than one this album and it's title has hit home with me personally and I'm sure for a handful of you as well. It's about love, it's about sickness, it's about loss, it's about being left behind and leaving others behind and what it feels like on both sides. The best thing about Hospice besides the incredible music is it's honesty. Plain and simple. Raw and ugly. Built up and beautiful. But it's always honest. They don't cut any corners in lyrics, nor do they in painting an audible and mental picture while you listen. They aren't trying to be poetic to confuse you or be too cryptic with the lyrics. It's truth is simple and real. In achieving this it becomes poetic on its own right and it sticks.

My first listen of the album, I listened through the whole disc twice. I rarely moved. I couldn't. I can't remember the last time an album has had an impact on me like that. In the age of digital media, attention deficit disorder, playlists and shuffle modes; its often rare albums are listened to as they should really should be. Listened to. Not reading, not eating, not driving, not talking. Listening. I'm just glad I got to experience Hospice that way, and hopefully you can too.

So here's what the album is about. It's two (mostly) true stories from singer/songwriter Peter Silberman's life. It's about watching a loved one die of cancer. It's about other relationships that can also die along with such a circumstance. Hospice is about as accurate a description you can get of what it's like to be around this situation. It was written after Peter moved to New York City and locked himself in his apartment away from family and friends for a year and a half (something he later states was a mistake for obvious reasons though we are all now bestowed with the fruits of his labor...) while creating and crafting Hospice alone.
At first, the album didn't grab me right away. The prologue track was silent for the first 25 seconds then came in very dissonant and ominous like. But soon after, beautiful pianos, synths, strings, and simple melodies swell in and out, barely noticeable if you aren't paying attention. That shouldn't be a problem though, as Hospice grabs you by your ears, throat, heart. I literally get a lump in my throat every time I listen to it. I get chills. I'm trying to explain just why that all that happens to me here, but it's hard. It's too beautiful, sad and heavy of an album. I'm listening to the light, bell-like electric piano part of 'Atrophy', as I type and it's so right, so perfect, so simple, so fitting to describe an emotion without saying a word. It rips my spine with chills. Some from the sadness, but also from just how beautiful that feeling can be. Whether you're experiencing it from music or experiencing it from whatever is going on in your own life.

The dynamics of the album build and dip and swell and distort so much, the back and forth feeling makes the album move at a perfect pace. Never are you bored listening to the same line being repeated chorus after chorus even if it's not an uptempo record. It's still catchy, but catchier in it's highest highs and lowest lows...but never a consistent feeling. It's poppy at times to keep you interested and coming back but it's far from a pop album. There's always something new and beautiful awaiting in the next verse, bridge, next song; but there is always something that keeps it familiar be it an instrument, vocal melody, or lyric.

Hospice starts with those 25 seconds of silence I was mentioning before and builds from there. A steady rhythmic piano comes in so perfectly you'll be confused as to just what it is at first. This opening song 'Kettering' begins its tale upon that staccato piano line with Peter's almost rap-like storytelling that blends into his hauntingly original falsetto and legato (sorry for all the -to's in that description) singing.

As heavy and hard as I keep saying the album is to digest, there are definitely still 'singles' on the album. 'Bear' is the first, featuring cute and catchy lyrics (at first) about a couple having fun and in love in the solitude of that love without the world around. It's also an account of feeling old and young at the same time. But the impending doom of separation shows itself as the 'Bear' in her stomach that is something they can't appease or cut out as that happiness descends to...well, not much of anything anymore. These lyrics paint the picture and story firmly in my head as I listen:

'We're terrified of one another. And terrified of what that means. But we'll make only quick decisions. And you'll just keep me in the waiting room. And all the while I'll know we're fucked. And not getting unfucked soon. When we get home we're bigger strangers than we've ever been before. You sit in front of snowy television, suitcase on the floor.'

Not exactly the pinnacle lyrics from a happy pop song, but you'll get both sides of it if you listen. 'Thirteen' is the track that descends out of 'Bear'. Actually, it explodes. This song there are no vocals, and The Antlers display they can be just as powerful without singing as they proudly display their post-rock roots that I love.

Next is the incredible song, 'Two'. It's mold is from a similar format as the other songs that work so well. A simple but original and beautiful rhythm line, this time supplied by a light guitar riff over whispering vocals. As I mentioned before, Silberman's vocals sound like melodic hip-hop rapping almost because you're listening him tell a story as it builds and unfolds. It's a steady rhythm but it's also unreliable as love and life almost always is. It's there and then it's not. It is the song when I first listened that really implanted the visual image in my head that this is an album about love, cancer, death, and being caught in the middle of it all. On that same token though, it could still be on the top of the radio charts it's so undeniably catchy.

The ten-song Hospice is brought to it's climax and chorus with the albums best track, 'Wake.' I hate funerals, but I hate the wake even more. I know a lot of people feel that way though. It's a numb and empty feeling even though there are a handful of loved ones in a room with you. 'Wake' is a nine minute expulsion that starts with talking more than singing...but the odd thing is that the breaths Peter takes in the beginning of the song are the most noticeable and disconcerting effect. It works. The song then builds itself around Silberman's haunting falsetto humming and reoccurring lyric throughout the album, 'Don't ever let anyone tell you you deserve that.' With trumpets, galloping drums, and strings following. It's so beautiful and morose and a culmination of the first eight songs it's almost a cleansing relief when the final track 'Epilogue' comes in. It wraps up the album with nothing other than one acoustic guitar and one vocal and one perfect keyboard part leaving the last audible traces. There is not one bad song on this album. I can say that honestly and without a doubt. Not a single one that you will want to skip.

Let me tell you this. As much as I love this album and think everyone should listen to it...I don't think everyone should listen to it. It's hard to recommend something when I know a lot of people might not get it or want to get it. That is understandable. It's really emotionally heavy. It's really sad. More so than anything else...it's really real. For better or for worse. It's also really good. But it's tough to recommend something that deals with such a heavy topic as plain and raw as The Antlers do. In an age of mostly disposable, dishonest, and dishearteningly lazy music, The Antlers are all the more beautiful and memorable for being brave enough to put an album like this out there. It'll make you feel something you might not want to feel all the time, but isn't that why we listen to music in the first place? To feel. And there wasn't a single album better this year or any other year that I can remember that left me with such a permanent impact and distinct feeling. But it's not for everyone. If you do listen though, and really listen... I hope you'll hear as much of the same beauty as I do. The Antlers - Hospice is the best album of 2009.




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