January 4th, 2010

The Antlers
Review Date
: January 4th, 2010

Reviewed By:
Not Yet Rated

ďTwoĒ and ďBearĒ

I donít even know where to start with this one. But I guess Iíll 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 Madisonís own Forward Music Festival (check it out next year if you havenít yet!). I walked into the bar on a beautiful day, sunlight was shining through the cracks of the windows, something Iíve never gotten to see before at the High Noon...itís 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 itís title has hit home with me personally and Iím sure for a handful of you as well. Itís about love, itís about sickness, itís about loss, itís 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 itís honesty. Plain and simple. Raw and ugly. Built up and beautiful. But itís always honest. They donít cut any corners in lyrics, nor do they in painting an audible and mental picture while you listen. They arenít trying to be poetic to confuse you or be too cryptic with the lyrics. Itís 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 couldnít. I canít 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. Iím just glad I got to experience Hospice that way, and hopefully you can too.

So hereís what the album is about. Itís two (mostly) true stories from singer/songwriter Peter Silbermanís life. Itís about watching a loved one die of cancer. Itís about other relationships that can also die along with such a circumstance. Hospice is about as accurate a description you can get of what itís 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 didnít 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 arenít paying attention. That shouldnít 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. Iím trying to explain just why that all that happens to me here, but itís hard. Itís too beautiful, sad and heavy of an album. Iím listening to the light, bell-like electric piano part of ďAtrophyĒ, as I type and itís 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 youíre 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 itís not an uptempo record. Itís still catchy, but catchier in itís highest highs and lowest lows...but never a consistent feeling. Itís poppy at times to keep you interested and coming back but itís far from a pop album. Thereís 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 youíll be confused as to just what it is at first. This opening song ďKetteringĒ begins its tale upon that staccato piano line with Peterís almost rap-like storytelling that blends into his hauntingly original falsetto and legato (sorry for all the -toís in that description) singing.

As heavy and hard as I keep saying the album is to digest, there are definitely still ďsinglesĒ on the album. ďBearĒ 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. Itís also an account of feeling old and young at the same time. But the impending doom of separation shows itself as the ďBearĒ in her stomach that is something they canít 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:

ďWeíre terrified of one another. And terrified of what that means. But weíll make only quick decisions. And youíll just keep me in the waiting room. And all the while Iíll know weíre fucked. And not getting unfucked soon. When we get home weíre bigger strangers than weíve ever been before. You sit in front of snowy television, suitcase on the floor.Ē

Not exactly the pinnacle lyrics from a happy pop song, but youíll get both sides of it if you listen. ďThirteenĒ is the track that descends out of ďBearĒ. 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, ďTwoĒ. Itís 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, Silbermanís vocals sound like melodic hip-hop rapping almost because youíre listening him tell a story as it builds and unfolds. Itís a steady rhythm but itís also unreliable as love and life almost always is. Itís there and then itís 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 itís so undeniably catchy.

The ten-song Hospice is brought to itís climax and chorus with the albums best track, ďWake.Ē I hate funerals, but I hate the wake even more. I know a lot of people feel that way though. Itís a numb and empty feeling even though there are a handful of loved ones in a room with you. ďWakeĒ 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 Silbermanís haunting falsetto humming and reoccurring lyric throughout the album, ďDonít ever let anyone tell you you deserve that.Ē With trumpets, galloping drums, and strings following. Itís so beautiful and morose and a culmination of the first eight songs itís almost a cleansing relief when the final track ďEpilogueĒ 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 donít think everyone should listen to it. Itís hard to recommend something when I know a lot of people might not get it or want to get it. That is understandable. Itís really emotionally heavy. Itís really sad. More so than anything else...itís really real. For better or for worse. Itís also really good. But itís 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. Itíll make you feel something you might not want to feel all the time, but isnít that why we listen to music in the first place? To feel. And there wasnít 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 itís not for everyone. If you do listen though, and really listen... I hope youíll hear as much of the same beauty as I do. The Antlers - Hospice is the best album of 2009.




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