The Antlers - Hospice
The Antlers’ heralded second album arrives with quite a bit of baggage: it’s a concept album charting a relationship with a woman who’s dying from cancer. It’s heady stuff indeed, and will probably be enough to make a number of would-be fans run a mile. The lyrics continually refer to hospitals, waiting rooms, death, sickness and unbearable tension and rage. A barrel of laughs it is not.
It can all get a bit much – mainman Peter Silberman aims for Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, but lacking Jeff Magnum’s deranged imagination and poetic talents, at his worst he gets closer to Conor Oberst’s teenage angst. “And all the while I'll know we're fucked and not getting unfucked soon,” he sings on single ‘Bear’. While nobody would think of trivialising the subject matter, many will find the unchanging tone and constant retreading of themes off-putting.
If the lyrics are hard work, then it’s a shame because a lot of the music is fantastic. The much vaunted single ‘Bear’ is a gorgeous lament, with a melody half lifted from Belle and Sebastian’s classic ‘Slow Grafitti’. Following an instrumental opener (the aptly titled ‘Prologue’), ‘Kettering’ is beautifully intimate, Silberman’s vocals caught in close-up, so you can hear the opening and closing of his mouth in each syllable. This is a quiet, elegiac record, unafraid to take its time, and the better for it. ‘Wake’, all eight minutes of it, is a high-watermark, and one of the best tracks of the year. The overbearing ‘Sylvia’ is the only weak point, demonstrating how The Antlers are best served by keeping the volume turned down.
‘Hospice’ isn’t a particularly original album – I was reminded at various points of the last Spiritualized record’s lyrical themes, Grizzly Bear’s toys-in-the-attic vibe, Deerhunter’s ambient wash, Bon Iver’s ethereal folk and, in its more epically inclined moments, Arcade Fire’s wobbly anthems and Frightened Rabbit’s folk-punk dynamics. Nonetheless, it’s a bold, often compelling statement, and makes a worthy addition to the ‘Dark Was The Night’ brigade’s college-rock canon.
Although a lot of the music was fantastic, The Antlers breakthrough album all "got a bit much" for Ragged Words when it got a wider release through Frenchkiss in August. It's testament to just how good that music is - often as widescreen as it gets - that the Brooklyn-based band appear not only appear here but that they became on of the word of mouth successes of the year. Something that will grow long into 2010. And while not bringing a hell of a lot new to the table, it's worth repeating what we said in August that Hospice is a bold, often compelling statement, and makes a worthy addition to the ‘Dark Was The Night’ brigade’s college-rock canon. (Padraic Halpin)