Release Date: Jun 17, 2014
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Electronic, Chamber Pop
The term “achingly beautiful” is such a go-to phrase in cultural criticism that there is even a Twitter account dedicated to pointing out its overuse. As cliché as it is, “achingly beautiful” seems fundamental in describing the songs of a band like the Antlers. The trio’s music is sometimes so personal and so graceful that it can be heartrending to listen to.
From 2009's Hospice onward, Brooklyn trio the Antlers have consistently crafted slow-burning indie rock set to soul-pouring lyrics, and this album is no exception. The third record since Pete Silberman expanded the project from solo to a trio, Familiars has a cohesive sonic identity, taking several core elements — Silberman's stunning tenor and hollow guitar tone, Michael Lerner's light drums and Darby Cicci's cosmic synths and syrupy trumpets — and rearranging them with enough delicacy to avoid treading the same ground repeatedly. Each song has its own identity, but also functions as a cog in the record's machine.
“Sad” is a catch-all we use to describe music that turns inward, reflects and exists without concern for how its audience is going to feel about what they hear. It is about expression, relating and both comforting and being comforted. This year has had no shortage of such, from wounded (Lykke Li, Sharon Van Etten, Beck) to pensive (Sun Kil Moon, La Dispute) to the talk of the moment, Lana Del Rey.
The manner in which The Antlers have nudged themselves towards indie rock’s very top tier has made for a fascinating watch. It’s certainly not unjustified; Hospice provided them with the most richly-deserved breakthrough since Boxer - superficially beautiful and thematically harrowing, its tale of a doomed relationship on a cancer ward proved an ordeal to wrench yourself away from, however devastating the subject matter. Burst Apart, meanwhile, diverged into more abstract lyrical territory while, if it was possible, surpassing its predecessor in terms of sheer sonic gorgeousness.
About as close to a word-of-mouth success story as a band is likely to get in these hype-driven times, The Antlers have evolved from the bedroom project of Brooklyn- based Pete Silberman into a band capable of inspiring real devotion among their fanbase. Their fifth album, Familiars, sees them seemingly on the verge of real crossover success. While previous high points Hospice and Burst Apart have demonstrated a similarly sincere, serious emotional indie-rock with little room for irony, Familiars sees Silberman infusing that weightiness with real poignancy, making for a much more rewarding listen.
The Antlers' fourth album, Familiars, adds soul to their melancholia, with mournful horns and clipped, Steve Cropper-style guitar figures rather than frantic indie strumming. The warmth of the sound does not extend to Pete Silberman's lyrics: "I rent a blank room to stop living in my past self," he admits on Hotel. Each song is constructed around a repeated chord pattern, without a conventional chorus or bridge – perhaps a legacy of the Brooklyn trio's roots in DIY electronica, or their professed influences of Charles Mingus and Alice Coltrane.
It’s always good to see a band growing. Sure, maybe The Antlers, because of the conceptual unity and heart poured into them, couldn’t make variations of the same album over and over, but they could just as well have stopped after Hospice or become a mediocre band. Two LPs of bedroom sketches (back when The Antlers was Peter Silberman’s solo project) transformed into a dazzling, heartbreaking mix of various strains of “indie rock” (fractured bits of electronic-influenced rock, dream pop, Neutral Milk Hotel-esque singer-songwriter stuff), and Burst Apart turned an entirely new direction with its smokey, somnambulist take on space-rock, sounding more like Spiritualized than any of their previous influences.
The earnest melancholy that made the Antlers' breakout album, Hospice, so devastating still lingers seven years later. But on the Brooklyn-based trio's fifth record, there's hope amidst the malaise. The first track, Palace, opens with gentle piano and a flicker of trumpet before Michael Lerner's deliberate drums kick in. And if that doesn't quicken your pulse, lead singer and guitarist Peter Silberman soon pushes his natural falsetto to new, soaring heights.
Familiars, the fourth album from Brooklyn-based indie/chamber/electronic trio Antlers, comes as a glacially slow step in the slow-moving progress that marked both their death-themed 2009 breakthrough album Hospice and its more electronica-leaning 2011 follow-up, Burst Apart. The nine songs here are sprawling pocket symphonies, longer songs brimming over with the horn arrangements that were just hinted at on previous work, if a little lighter on airy keyboards and Boards of Canada-influenced dreaminess. Songwriter Pete Silberman has always had a gift for storytelling lyrics that tend more toward tragedy than redemption, and a thick, somber vibe carries throughout much of Familiars, beginning with the brass section-powered lope of "Palace.
Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the streets. There’s a World Cup on the telly, and at least one of your friends will be holding a barbecue in the next couple of weeks. You’re going to need a summer soundtrack. The Antlers are not the group for that summer soundtrack. This ….
On the best bits of 2011’s ‘Burst Apart’, The Antlers resembled the duskier moments of Wild Beasts and Grizzly Bear. Here, on their fifth album, the Brooklyn trio sound emboldened, finding room for horn sections and plaintive piano lines amid the murk. While ‘Hotel’’s yearning vocal and the spidery, Cure-esque melodies that open ‘Palace’ are still the work of distinctly delicate souls, there’s an added confidence to ‘Familiars’.
As the horns slide into and out of focus and codas and themes are repeated, slowly seeping into the mind, it becomes clear just how much of an influence jazz has had on ‘Familiars’. The Antlers have made no secret of the fact that records such as Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey in Satchidananda’, Charles Mingus’ ‘The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady’, and Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’ were on rotation as they created the record and leader Peter Silberman has expressed his frustration at the ‘confines’ of writing pop songs. It means ‘Familiars’ is an expansive record, big on ideas and wide in scope.
Let’s get one thing straight: The Antlers are not here to hold your hand. They are not here to help you maintain your optimism in the face of life’s uncertainties, and they certainly aren’t here to help you forget that someday you are going to die. But if you’re patient, they will, for 53 minutes, do everything within their power to make that fact a little easier to bear.
The Antlers’ career began at its fullest in 2009 with the release of Hospice. Few had heard of Peter Silberman, but with his recently acquired crew of drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci, that somber, steady album quickly garnered acclaim as a valuable piece of musical narrative, relating the allegorical relationship between a hospice worker and his terminally ill patient, and as an outlier in modern rock music with its calm, open-hearted confidence. Now, five years later, Familiars blends the aforementioned with its strictly non-concept, syncopated predecessor Burst Apart to create something reflective and unique, cohesive yet diverse.
The Antlers have grown up in their own way: slowly. The project’s first full-band effort, 2009’s Hospice, followed two collections of roughshod solo material from lead vocalist Peter Silberman, records that sounded as if he were fumbling in the dark; Hospice, then, was light making its way into the room, a collection of indie rock that drew from the sounds you’re likely to find on an iPod owned by someone in their mid-20s—sparkling chamber-pop, angsty, emotive vocal surges, gaping shoegaze guitars. Two years later, they returned with Burst Apart, a transitional effort that found the Antlers getting weirder, incorporating the kind of saucer-eyed ambience familiar to anyone who’s ever heard Sigur Rós in a smoke-filled dorm room.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Peter Silberman is a man possessed. His work with Brooklyn, New York indie project The Antlers often reveals this--dark primordial fears wrung from the cloth of his soul like dishwater from a rag--whether singing about young adults scheduling abortion appointments on Hospice or love's lack of stability throughout Burst Apart.
Over the past eight years, the Antlers have excelled at combining moody, dramatic rock with dark, personal storytelling. On their fifth album, the Brooklyn three-piece opt for something a bit unfamiliar: The nine tracks are grounded in jazzier, spacier arrangements, filled out with trumpets, trombones, cellos and upright bass. It's a perfect fit for singer-guitarist Peter Silberman, who spins haunting tales of delusion, paranoia and self-loathing on eerie songs like "Doppelganger," "Hotel" and "Director," reaching new stages of self-awareness and sadness.
For those of us expecting that The Antlers would continue on the path of their 2012 Undersea EP, a drawn-out batch of psychedelia, Familiars is an unexpected turn. The spacey landscapes have returned, but Familiars is a jazzier expedition in tone and form. There's even room for sleepy guitar solos in "Intruders" and towards the end of "Hotel." Darby Cicci's trumpet has gone from decoration to centerpiece, and Michael Lerner's fine drumming has become looser, allowing more space for the excursions of bass and piano that back Peter Silberman's pristine voice.
Ever since The Antlers released third album Hospice, back in 2009, they have been destined to become part of indie royalty, making a transition similar to that experienced by the likes of The National and Bon Iver in recent years. Both Hospice, and its 2011 follow-up Burst Apart, were genuinely heartbreaking records, to the extent that their emotional power remains as potent years later as on first listen. Familiars, then, carries an expectation of pathos as well as of quality songwriting from frontman Pete Silberman and co.
The Antlers’ frontman Peter Silberman recently compared listening to his old music, namely 2009’s Hospice, to the jarring experience of “looking at an old picture of yourself.” In the five years since that album’s release, Silberman, along with multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner, has managed to successfully follow it up with 2011’s Burst Apart and 2012’s aquatic EP Undersea. Now, he admits he can barely recognize the Silberman of just a few years ago. Familiars, the band’s fifth full-length, explores that disconnect between past and present self.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been half a decade since Brooklyn-based trio the Antlers released Hospice (Anti-, 2009), a record that catapulted them to the top of the indie world and cemented them as one of the hottest bands to watch in the upcoming 2010s. The follow-up, 2011’s Burst Apart (Frenchkiss), quietly surpassed its predecessor in both critical and commercial success, helping the Antlers take the next step in proving they were the real deal. After three years, two solid EPs and a label swap, vocalist Peter Silberman, multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner have returned with their most experimental effort to date.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK Since the release of their watershed album Hospice, the Antlers have gradually distanced themselves from emotionally crushing storytelling in favour of melodramatic pop. You would think it was almost out of necessity; Hospice is an extraordinarily draining record to listen to, and I can only imagine what it was like recording it. Dwelling on memories as harrowing as the ones that were aired out on their first album as a full band is a tough way to make a living.