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. It will surprise some fans who had taken solace in ‘Hospice’ and ‘Burst Apart’’s intense, cathartic and sometimes harrowing ruminations on fear, doubt, love and loss. There’s more space here than on those records, a cushioning of their sound and a certainly a more hopeful feel.
Yet live with it a while and it reveals itself: the repetition begins to become hypnotising, Silberman’s decision to create this ‘Familiar’ - writing and singing as two sides of the same person – also creates a narrative arc and a story that lends itself to – nearly demands – that it is given time. And there is found a record that, for all of its complexities and pretensions, is not only hauntingly beautiful but more than rewards.
Silberman’s voice has never sounded as welcoming and understanding as it does here, while multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci’s use of horns helps create the rich textures that anchor the album. Opening track ‘Palace’ swoons and swells tenderly over a gentle piano line. ‘Hotel’ is equally dreamily evocative: the sleepy horns and twinkling keyboard soundtrack Silberman singing “And when I check out, It won’t matter how my name’s spelled.”
It’s these constant references to buildings – palaces, hotels or houses – that build the story of mental walls being built up and dismantled. The narrative builds up to some sort of epiphany on closing tracks ‘Surrender’ and ‘Refuge’. “See you’re already home / yet you don’t know where to find it.” The destination has been reached, the view is stunning.
It’s ‘Director’ that seems the epicentre of this odyssey. During its five minutes it teases and withdraws, a lesson in gorgeous restraint yet its heartbeat still keenly felt. That’s the point. ‘Familiars’ may not be as obviously fervently intense as their previous work but the truth is its emotional weapons have just been wrapped in a beautiful bow.