The Antlers, Hospice

The Antlers, Hospice

The Antlers’ ambient and elegiac debut, Hospice, has generated a veritable buzz from indie sites and bloggers alike since its online release in late June. For the most part, it’s been received well — some even going as far to say that Hospice is the best album released in 2009 so far.

Here’s the gist of it: Hospice focuses on a terminal patient restricted to a hospital bed, and the narrative comes from the point of view of her bedside significant other, played by Antlers front man Peter Silberman. What’s striking here isn’t the praise — although the album is well written and sounds beautiful — but that an album with such a meditated concept and a strong narrative could have so much appeal.

Given that songs like “Sylvia” and “Two” are made of that necessary indie, bleeding-heart, synthesized prog-rock, they are divided up among the rest of the album’s somber ambient rock. “Sylvia” acknowledges our unwilling patient and the subsequent focus of Hospice. It erupts with a revelatory chorus line (“Sylvia, get your head out of the oven…”), and Peter Silberman’s voice rises into a strained soprano. There’s life in this song, and for our speaker, a glimmer of hope for his patient.

For the few moments of excitement in Hospice, there’s a lot of time given to sparse sober tunes that Silberman uses to progress the narrative. Thankfully, where the instrumentation and songcraft is minimal, room is created for threads of beauty in more cinematic moments. “Shiva” trots with sloshy shoegaze and an oddly appropriate trumpet fanfare washing over a chorus of “ooh”‘s. “Wake,” appearing near the end of the album, has one of those moments that makes you go, “Ahh…” When Silberman’s voice hits that falsetto note on the line, “because the hardest thing is never to repent for someone else, it’s letting people in,” it’s hard not to shiver.

Other songs are a congenial mix of the two. “Bear,” an indie flare-up, is a catchy, off-beat number that gets mention here because of its relevant use of the word “unfucked” and incessant ear for a tight indie shuffle. “Kettering” leans towards the softer side of things, but progresses via pulsing piano and fuzzed-out drums (sort of reminiscent of late Radiohead), taking time to tell the story of Sylvia and why an entire album has been created around her tenure in the hospital and after.

Hospice, isn’t an album that grabs you right away with catchy hooks or industrious tunefulness — nor was it conceived with that intention in mind. It’s a hard-line conceptual work that requires attention and focus on the part of the listener (god forbid!). Still, there’re songs and moments that immediately draw your ear out and pique your interest for its washy, ambient, and emotional ambition. Look for Hospice, in physical release, later on this summer.

(Frenchkiss Records -- 111 East 14th St. Suite 229, New York, NY. 10003; http://frenchkissrecords.com/; The Antlers -- http://www.myspace.com/theantlers)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, July 10th, 2009. Filed under Reviews.

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