Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Antlers - Burst Apart (2011) REVIEW

2009 was one of my life most fucked up years, another one was 2002, the first one was undoubtedly 1967. Nevermind both latter years. In 2009, even music was almost completely non-existent in my life. That godforsaken year, I was feeling lower than a dog, filthier than scum, I just wanted to cut myself deep to feel physical instead of mental pain, and eventually watch myself bleed to see if I was still alive. Needless to say, I was not feeling very well. August 18th, 2009, The Antlers issued "Hospice" and I was lucky enough to stumble upon it : I had found my bedside record. That album offered me some punctual and welcome relief. Part of its efficiency lay in the incredible sadness pouring out of this album, but I believe the main part of its soothing effect on my tormented stupidity was in its artistic and aesthetic beauty, besides the high-pitched electronic noise which had the odd effect of cleansing my overcharged brainy(banana)waves. In some way, the eventual spookie reader can already understand that The Antlers are rather special to me, at least that particular album.

"Hospice" was not and still isn't the easiest and most accessible rock album around, but it marked its year, if not its decade; I consider it one of the best albums of the last decade, hands down. Indeed, the long high-pitched crackling multi-layered electronic shrieks present in almost every songs was closer to Austrian experimental trio Radian than Radiohead, but that jaw-clenching noise was contrasted by frontman Peter Silberman's very affecting falsetto and extremely memorable songs and compositions. Besides its intrinsic qualities, that album was also a near complete musical UFO. It was a concept album, or less forbiddingly said a 'novel-album', from the perspective of two central characters: a cancer patient on her hospital death bed and a committed nurse who becomes attached and falls deeply in love, despite impending tragedy. Not exactly The Lonely Island's "Jizz in My Pants".

When "Hospice" reached my ears, The Antlers seemed like coming out of nowhere although it was already and at least their third album. The two first ones, "Uprooted" in 2006 and "In The Attic of  the Universe" in 2007 were actually one man band The Antlers aka Peter Silberman, the first one being amateurish lo-fi folk, the second one showing the direction towards "Hospice" two years later. "Recorded over the course of almost two years, 'Hospice' started out as another solo project before Silberman started incorporating other musicians, including drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci, who eventually ended up as permanent members of the Antlers." (1) It's the same trio who recorded the fourth album "Burst Apart".

Coming back to the studio after having committed such a landmark album as "Hospice" must be tough. I can already say that "Burst Apart" isn't a masterpiece, or time will tell, but it's more like a promising album, a record that gives much hope for other jewels to come. At first, I must admit that I was disappointed by this new album by The Antlers. Who wouldn't? Who won't? But after repeated listening, I believe this album to grow on me, only not as a whole.

First of all, "Burst Apart" contains one formidable misstep : "Parentheses". This track is a Radiohead circa "Kid A" pastiche. The guitar riff, the sound of it, it has Jonny Greenwood's trademark all over it. The worse part isn't there, Peter Silberman has never sounded so self-conscious and it falls as flat as a pancake. Put it simply, he sounds like some operatic drag queen imitating Jeff Buckley and karaoking over some instrumental Radiohead's leftovers. His voice has never been so pure but it sounds like following a score note by note, without an inch of feeling. The composition is really fine though, but the delivery is... eeerrrr... pretty awkward. "Burst Apart" disappointed me at first because The Antlers are sounding like a pop/rock band, if rather original, but it sounded almost too pretty, radio friendly and well, my negative weakness, kinda 80s here and there : the drum beats, some synths, most of the guitars. Take a track like "French Exit", it could be a Destroyer circa this year "Kaputt" b-side, bordering on cheesiness, but just not so, and it actually works, a bit like that mentioned Destroyer last effort; I was taken by surprise. Only, this song has such a rich texture, the melody is so effective, and Peter Silberman sounds just right. "No Windows" is even worse on that regards, we are into new wave, completely, the beatbox, the layers of plastic synth, Silberman's imitating some owl, but again there's more to it, in the arrangement mostly. Not my favourite song tho. My highlights are "Rolled Together" and its chord progression building up a slow crescendo as layers and layers of instruments are coming over and over. This is almost completely instrumental, except for some backing vocals all along. "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling", the title refers to one classical nightmare, is the poppiest song on the album, it almost sounds joyous, uplifting, despite the title. And "Corsicana", a very tender and touching song, Silberman has seldom sung so well as on this track. One of the most sober too, a very crystalline and melodic guitar fingerpicking, some very slow bossanova maybe and some lush layers of synthesizer, that's it.

"Burst Apart" is a very odd album, unbalanced, ambitious, paradoxically unpretentious, clumsy, distant and close at the same time, easy going and hard to grab, but completely human and somewhere rather lovely.

7 out of 10

(1) http://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-antlers-p962618/biography

  • Uprooted (2006) - 5
  • In The Attic of  the Universe (2007) - 6.5
  • Hospice (2009) - 8

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