Please know that I am complimenting Peter Silberman when I tell him he sounds pitiful on Hospice. After a few years of recording by himself in Brooklyn in songwriter-using band-name mode Silberman, recruited drummer Michael Lerner and keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci for the collection of songs that would eventually become 2009’s slow-burn success. Hospice was based around a narrative of a caregiver and a terminally-ill patient’s emotionally abusive relationship, using it a metaphorical spine to explore depression, guilt, soul-sucking entropy, mutual recriminations and futile blame games over arrangements that swelled to explosion. It felt honest and brave, and had a few choruses that would make Win Butler jealous. Again, I mean it as a compliment when I say that the day Hospice was released, “Bear” instantly appeared towards the top in the Songs About Abortion Canon, and “All the time I’ll know we’re fucked/ And not getting un-fucked soon” is a masterful bit of Just Say What You Really Mean lyric writing.
“Silberman is vague here, leaving the sound to do all the heavy work, content to let his voice be just another wave in the ocean of bliss.”
As is Silberman’s right, he’s always been cagey about what was emotionally true and what was (much less importantly) literally true in Hospice, but it’s hard not to wonder if he felt a little exposed and embarrassed after crafting an album that felt like a desperate 4 am phone call to anyone who will listen. Plus, bless his heart, after attracting a fair amount of bloggy, heat-seaking types the first time out, perhaps Silberman simply wanted to play it cool next time around. (He loved to tell interviewers that he had been listening to a lot of Broadcast recently.) Regardless of his intentions, when the follow-up Burst Apart arrived, Silberman loaded his compositions with layers of washed out keyboards, busy electronic flourishes and meandering passages. (If nothing else, Apart proved yet again that a little bit of hypnotic drum loopery goes a long way. A lot of hypnotic drum loopery goes nowhere.) There were plenty of great moments (“I Don’t Want Love” and “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” showed that an expanded palette of guitar tones and cathartic hooks need not be mutually exclusive) but it often felt like Silberman was hiding behind moody atmosphere and shiny new toys after exhausting himself the last time around. It was too well made to qualify as a bad album, but it certainly felt like a feint.
The Antlers seem even less concerned with immediacy on their new EP Undersea, which comes a year after the release of Apart. But at least they’re hiding themselves in more interesting ways. “Bathe in the water with me” Silberman sings, and these songs are all about submerging you in a feeling that is as hard-to-define as it is potent. Silberman is vague here, leaving the sound to do all the heavy work, content to let his voice be just another wave in the ocean of bliss. Much of Apart nodded to Massive Attack, but here the rippling textures, strolling beats and keyboard sighs seem to draw from “cloud rap” producer Clams Casino and producer Nellee Hooper. (The cut-up horns and near sultry beat in “Crest” almost seems like a deliberate shout-out.) Even as an EP this could stand to be tightened up (I’ll avoid the obvious joke about “Endless Ladder” and just say it would be twice as lovely if they chopped off the largely instrumental second half), but the sparse piano stabs and pensive chords of “Drift Drive” achieve the floating grace that Apart strained for. Undersea proves that the Antlers are continuing to grow as fine sculptors of intricately stitched-together quilts of echos and shadings. But it never quite dissuades you of the feeling that that the band will continue to stall out on their potential until Silberman the Producer becomes comfortable with Silberman the Bloodletting Dramatist.