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Monday, May 9, 2011

The Antlers: Burst Apart (Release Date: 5-10-2011)

        If you haven't heard Hospice, The Antlers heartbreaking 2009 full-band debut, then consider this a call to action. The disc is the truest and rarest of marvels: A lyrical and musical blood-letting ripe with feeling and authenticity. Frontman Peter Silberman spins a seemingly chronological yarn about a sick young girl that's filled to the brim with anxiety, tonal shifts, hospital imagery, and blistering self-blame. It's a disc that's been unfairly over-looked, one that deserves to sit right next to Arcade Fire's Funeral and Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago as one of the most earnest and emotive of the last several years. And while Hospice might not be as readily name-checked as those other Two, it too has turned its fair share of heads. And now we have Burst Apart, the follow-up to a CD for which there can be no sequel.

        Hospice is a pretty intense listening experience, and one can only imagine what it took to create it. That being said, it seemed only logical that Burst Apart would scale down the despair by a noticeable margin, but that doesn't keep opener I Don't Want Love from catching you off-guard. There's something in the tune, in it's slowed-down guitar strum and simple, sure-footed drum beat, that we've never heard from Silberman before: it's called sunshine, if only a ray or Two. The chilly atmospherics of the band will surely never change, supported by Silberman's arid falsetto and searingly honest lyrics, but listening to the group without worrying about Silberman hurting himself is finally possible here. Even his trademark declarations of parasitic love ("You want to climb up the stairs/I want to push you back down/But I let you inside/So you can push me around") are delivered with more peace, tempered by glittering chimes and light symbol touches to help them go down nice and easy. It's a bold play emotionally, but bolder still musically, as I Don't Want Love is simply composed in a much different manner than anything that's come before it.

        The same could be said of follow-up track French Exit, which contains a sort of bass-driven bounce that eventually gives way to an under-water keyboard of the chorus. Much like its predecessor, it's a song that's kind of hopeful in spite of itself, lyrics vaguely unsettled but music oddly inviting. The last minute or so, in which all of the individual pieces of the song are brought together at one instance, is both subtle and sublime. Burst Apart finally returns to the darkness on its third tune and first single, Parentheses, but even here, it's much different than before. Where just about any song on Hospice found its gloom in ways that could conjure up tears, this tune's particular color of black is far more fearful. Silberman, whose falsetto has never been more stunning than on this track, just about convinces you that he's a ghost, floating eerily through percussion-heavy ambiance, floating and guiding the song to the surprisingly dirty guitar part that the song calls a chorus. Three songs in, and Burst Apart is nothing short of wonderful.

        It's a shame, then, that the rest of BA never quite returns to the glory of its opening act, but that's not to say that there aren't plenty more riches to be found. No Widows would sound far more at home on Hospice than any other track here, its echoing, electronica-tinged feel balancing with the devastated howling of much of their former disc. Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out receives its primary melody in the form of Banjo strums, a first for them that I am aware of, but it sounds good. I suppose that's just the problem with much of Burst Apart: There's a whole lot of good on the album, but not all that much great. All Ten tracks are serviceable in their own right, but until BA reaches its brilliant bummed-out waltz of a closer (Putting the Dog to Sleep), it's easy to let your mind wander away from its safe melodies. Judging any Antlers' album against Hospice is largely non-sensical: That disc was a once-in-a-career type achievement that one would imagine was only possible because of Silberman's beyond damaged emotional state. For his sake, I hope they never do make Hospice again, and even if Burst Apart isn't the break-out classic that its forefather was, its a wise step in a new, (slightly) happier direction with moments that absolutely shine.

Grade: B+

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