Album Review The Antlers - Burst Apart

A little lighter, and considerably more expansive.

‘Whatever we record next is going to define the three of us as a band.’ Peter Silberman did not make a statement like this for the sake of it. If the post-‘Hospice’ Antlers needed anything, they needed defining. Having grown from Silberman’s bedroom project that produced two albums of beautiful and introspective lo-fi, into a trio (adding Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci) that took what its founder had started and blew it up to massive proportions, The Antlers needed to work out just where they would go next.

It wasn’t an easy task, either. How the hell do you follow an album as harrowing as ‘Hospice’? Not by going further down that route, anyway: its follow-up was meant to be a step in this direction, but they didn’t want to become that band, and it’s obvious why. It would have been unbearable for all involved. Silberman continued to have trouble singing those songs when he took them on tour, after all. Even if the live version of ‘Hospice’ was as removed from its studio incarnation as it was possible to get, the heart-rending narrative, about an abusive, terminally-ill patient and a hospice worker and used as a metaphor for a failing relationship, did not - could not - change.

The solution, then, (as no-one wanted to put themselves through anything similar again) was to do things differently. And so we arrive at ‘Burst Apart’, which actually has a little more in common with its predecessor than one might think. It’s not a concept album; nor is it as difficult to listen to; yet it is every bit as rewarding. The core subject matter remains the same, too. Silberman is still focusing on relationships, and would seem to dismiss them from the outset, as the album’s first track is called ‘I Don’t Want Love’.

Appearances can be deceptive, however. Moving from lines like, ‘You wanna climb up the stairs / I wanna push you back down / But I let you inside so you can push me around’ and ‘Every time we meet, you are spitting in my mouth’ (‘French Exit’) to ones filled with longing, such as those scattered throughout ‘Corsicana’ (‘We should hold our breath with mouths together now’), the album unfolds, disproving Silberman’s earlier sentiments. He still wants love; even if things haven’t worked out for him so far, this remains the case: the final line of this album’s closing track, ‘Putting The Dog To Sleep’, is, ‘Put your trust in me - I’m not gonna die alone / I don’t think so’.

Even if he can’t be 100% sure, at least the music he creates with Lerner and Cicci is more confident. As an album, ‘Burst Apart’ is more atmospheric than ‘Hospice’, much more ‘Atrophy’ than ‘Sylvia’; that is not to say moments of catharsis are absent, they’re just a bit tougher to come by, and when they do (a textbook example being the swoon-worthy finale of ‘Hounds’) they’re unexpected.

Speaking of which, it takes serious guts to put out a song like ‘Parentheses’ as lead single. Its Massive Attack-meets-Wild Beasts swagger couldn’t have been more misleading when it was premiered a few months ago. It may work very well in context, but it was never going to be indicative of the album as a whole. If I were a betting man, money would be placed on ‘French Exit’ earning single status sometime soon - it’s certainly summery enough.

The Antlers, then, deserve praise. Their full-band debut, one of the best of recent years was always going to be a big ask. Fortunately, their fourth album (let’s just leave it as that as I don’t want to get technical) should silence any doubters. A little lighter, considerably more expansive: will it define them? Time will tell, and time is just what it requires. On the whole, it’s a grower, but the best moment of all is when it comes together… or even when you feel it burst apart.

 

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