The Antlers - Burst Apart (2011)
There’s a resounding irony in the fact that The Antlers rose to international prominence only after releasing one of the most deeply personal albums ever written. That album, 2009’s Hospice, was a lengthy, conceptually-overwrought, and incredibly private record that seemed to welcome only the most understanding of listeners. Its subject matter — brutally honest and almost uncomfortably personal — was more befitting a diary than a breakout record. The near-universal praise that it recieved was certainly well deserved, but it is nevertheless puzzling that the album caught on as well as it did. Despite its inaccessibility, Hospice turned the formerly-unknown Brooklyn band into a well-respected name within circles of independent music fans.
Casual listeners may not even realize that The Antlers released two albums before their 2009 rise in popularity. On those albums, 2006’s Uprooted and 2007’s In The Attic of the Universe, The Antlers was simply a solo project of singer/songwriter Peter Silberman. By the time of Hospice’s release, however, The Antlers had come together as a something of a group, consisting of Peter Silberman, Michael Lerner, and Darby Cicci. After receiving substantial buzz from online media outlets, the trio toured the world, ironically exposing thousands of people to the inwardly expressive and deeply personal songs of the band’s frontman.
Upon listening to Burst Apart, the group’s new album, I wonder if Silberman realized this irony. Perhaps he felt so uncomfortable after exposing his deepest thoughts and feelings to such a large audience that he could not bear to make another album like that again. In my opinion, however, it is more likely that Silberman has simply changed in the two years since that album was written. I believe that Hospice (in the grand sense; i.e. the writing, recording, release, and touring of the record) may have been a necessary step for Silberman in expelling whatever demons inspired it. In an interview with Pitchfork in January, the singer echoed something that Frightened Rabbit’s frontman Scott Hutchison told him regarding Silberman’s own connection to the music of that record. “It’s [the audience’s] now,” he said, “You’ll sing it to them, but they’re the one’s singing it. You can let it go and give it to them.”
I believe that it was this “letting go” that invariably led to the creation of Burst Apart. The album utterly abandons its predecessor’s overwhelming misery in favor of a more subdued and digestible tone. Lyrically, Silberman explores broader, more universal themes of loneliness and loss — a contrast to the ultra-specific and autobiographical subject matter of Hospice. In its title alone, the album’s opening track “I Don’t Want Love” virtually rejects the very ethos of their previous record. While some fans will undoubtedly miss Silberman’s overarching storytelling, dismissing the new record for a lack of dramatic lyrical themes would be short-sighted. The songwriting is still in top form on Burst Apart, especially on the aforementioned “I Don’t Want Love” and the closing track “Putting The Dog To Sleep”, but Silberman no longer has to bare his soul to convey something meaningful. It’s an admirable progression for him to make as a songwriter, and demonstrates both his tremendous talent and also his self-awareness.
Incidentally, the success of Burst Apart lies less in the album’s lyrics, and more in its music. Although The Antlers were something of an amorphous group in 2009, the three members have finally come into their own as a real, fully operating band. This evolution is clearly evident on Burst Apart, which features jazzy arrangements and song structures, unique instrumentation, and a remarkably full sound for a trio. “French Exit” and “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” both feature dance-y, almost Latin-sounding guitar riffs, while the former is underscored by a lilting keyboard melody. The post-rock influenced “Parentheses” has great guitar work as well, in addition to fascinating percussion that seems to give a nod to Radiohead’s “Climbing Up The Walls.” All the while, Peter Silberman’s distinctive ghostly falsetto is in the center of the mix. Surprisingly though, his voice’s role on the record is often less that of a lyrical conveyer, and more that of an instrument itself. On “Hounds”, his voice provides a heavenly counterbalance to the spindly guitar riff and minimalistic drumming. Similarly, on “Rolled Together”, Silberman’s voice becomes a riffing instrument itself as it repeats the song’s single line until it melds with the various other instruments in the mix. The album boasts some of the best production I’ve heard in years, thus allowing all of these distinctive musical elements to coalesce with ease.
None of these songs possess the emotional power of Hospice, nor does Burst Apart work as well as a unified album. Still, there are moments on this record that give me chills just as severe as those I constantly felt when I used to listen to Hospice a lot. On “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”, Silberman exerts unprecedented confidence as a vocalist when he sings the song’s title-referencing chorus, despite its chilling and disturbing imagery. The song is not only one of the more catchy tracks in the Antlers repetoire, but also one of the most singularly brilliant. Similarly, the beautiful closing track “Putting The Dog To Sleep” also stands as one of the finest moments in their discography. After a brief, atmospheric intro, the song explodes with a jarring, punchy, reverb-heavy guitar. “Prove to me I’m not gonna die alone,” Silberman sings as the song begins to pick up. On their facebook page recently, The Antlers described Burst Apart as “The album you get stoned and slow dance to”. If there is any track on the record that fits this description best, it is that one. Sounding like some sort of alternate-reality 1950s senior prom band, the Antlers lay down a gorgeous ballad that brings closure and cohesion to a record that would otherwise lack it. “Putting The Dog To Sleep” shows that The Antlers are capable of creating music that is beautiful and meaningful without demanding an emotional bloodletting from the listener every single time. If Hospice goes down as the critically-regarded high point in The Antlers’ discography, Burst Apart will be the album that you play because you want to, not because you know that it’s a great record.
- 1. I Don’t Want Love
- 2. French Exit
- 3. Parentheses
- 4. No Widows
- 5. Rolled Together
- 6. Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out
- 7. Tiptoe
- 8. Hounds
- 9. Corsicana
- 10. Putting The Dog To Sleep
Best tracks: “I Don’t Want Love”, “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”, “Putting The Dog To Sleep”
Burst Apart comes out May 10th on Frenchkiss Records.
The Antlers are coming to Hamden, CT’s The Space on June 17th. More information about that show can be found HERE.