The Antlers - Hospice
Bookending your latest album with tracks entitled Prologue and Epilogue carries a heavy whiff of the concept album and is always going to open you up to accusations of pretension. Taking its inspiration from the basic idea of "caring for a terminal patient who’s mentally abusive to you" and documenting the extremes of emotion, guilt and self-destruction suffered on the part of the protagonist, Hospice is indeed an album that demands to be taken seriously.
Hospice is the second album from New York’s The Antlers, formerly a solo project for Peter Silberman and now expanded to a three-piece with the addition of drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci. Silberman is still very much the driving force behind the band, having initiated work on this release as a solo project, and it’s his vocal delivery that stands out here as something truly special. Alternately swooping and passionate then thoughtful and understated, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Antony Hegarty, Silberman’s vocals are set against a similarly schizophrenic musical background. Prologue, Hospice's haunting but non-committal introduction, recalls the paranoia and ennui of OK Computer era Radiohead. As it’s outro of sirens fades into the piano-driven Kettering, it’s clear that we have here a piece of work more than capable of living up to its own sense of grandeur.
Kettering, the highlight of the album, is a quite astonishingly sad and beautiful lament, drenched in such a heavily medicated atmosphere that you can almost smell the anti-septic hospital corridors. Silberman’s retrospective lyric (“but something kept me standing by that hospital bed… I didn't believe them when they told me that there was no saving you ") and vocal, full of regret, are almost painfully personal and laid bare and up-front in the mix.
For all its low-key melancholic beauty, Hospice still knows how and when to throw off its restraints… Sylvia is an epic indie anthem that could quite feasibly thrust the band into the attention of the mainstream were it given the opportunity; Two marches on with the kind of infectious hook not heard since the Archers of Loaf disbanded, and the rousing Wake concludes with a sense of majesty and drama worthy of the Arcade Fire.
This is though – as promised – serious stuff, and not an album for the iPod Shuffle generation. It’s an "album" in the old-fashioned sense of the word - best savoured as a single piece of work; each song a chapter in its narrative structure. Hospice demands and deserves your attention from beginning to end – from Prologue to Epilogue.
Note: Hospice was originally self-released and distributed by The Antlers in June 2009. A re-mastered CD and vinyl release is set for August 18 via Frenchkiss Records.