2009 was a peculiar, yet progressive year for music, in that there was such a fascinating culmination of styles that emerged throughout those 12 months. The now saturated beach-scene hurled the likes of Girls and Wavves into the limelight, while bands such as The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart and Japandroids burst eardrums with their gritty noise pop. Then there were the standalone works of genius. Take Animal Collective's highly acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavilion as an example. Yet despite the eclectic blend of music that enthralled consumers in that year, The Antlers were a band that defied any pins or labels. The band were lumped into the indie rock tag, with no links drawn between classic indie rockers such as Pavement and Modest Mouse. Some pointed out a post-rock theme, although Hospice presents nothing that suggests any ties to Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky. Hospice was a unique effort, conceptually, vocally and most of all musically.
Therefore, frontman and essentially life-blood of The Antlers Peter Silberman must have faced the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’. With Hospice so focused on its concept (a failing relationship presented metaphorically as a doctor’s interactions with a terminal cancer patient), the music inevitably followed suit, a downbeat, mellow affair often swelling into eruptions of anger and emotion. Yet Burst Apart’s opening track ‘I Don’t Want Love’ immediately grants the listener a sense of direction. The song adopts a much more consistent sound than many of the songs on the band’s previous effort. The ecstatic climbs that were witnessed on tracks such as Sylvia are swapped for a much smoother atmosphere that continues throughout the whole song.
The more coherent structure of individual tracks is a trend that persists over the course of the album. That’s not to say, however, that the songs that comprise this effort are particularly comparable. Tracks such as Parentheses and Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out are among The Antlers most buoyant, uptempo endeavors to date, while other songs like Rolled Together and Hounds further showcase the thin layered beauty that Silberman is capable of providing. It should also be mentioned that the production values on Burst Apart have been significantly increased, and it shows. The hollow reverbs and, lower-fi (if you will) mix that were offered on Hospice have been cleaned up in favour of a more pristine, well-oiled artifact. One could argue that perhaps some of the imperfections on Hospice’s production contain an aspect of it’s charm, but the refinements really allow Silberman’s startling vocal talents to shine through.
Lyrically the album does not suffer as a result of losing a continuous storyline. Burst Apart is as capable of twanging heart-strings as it’s predecessor, particularly in closer Putting The Dog To Sleep, where Silberman aches for some reassurance regarding companionship, as he cries “Prove to me, I’m not gonna die alone”. In fact, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to throw in a pack of Kleenex with every Antlers record. With Peter in fine voice as ever, the metaphorical instances of genius that are scattered throughout this album coagulate to form euphoric highs and moving, poignant lows to leave listeners rocking back and forth in the corner of the room.
With an album like Hospice relying so heavily upon it’s individuality and self-focus, it is hard to imagine the process that The Antlers had to go through to work themselves out of what could be described as a beautiful rut. Yet the progression displayed in Burst Apart is as natural and inevitable as any. It is as though Silberman’s songwriting has simply aged into a comfortable state of adulthood, carrying all it’s teenage charms into new frontiers, where fresh challenges await, but with a clear sense of direction. And direction is what makes this album a joy to behold. An ideal balance between the old and the new. With such an instinctive development of a band who could have gone anywhere at the end of their last album, one has to wonder, will 2011 be the new 2009?
Out 10/05/2011 Stuart Thornton