The Antlers: “Hospice”
Everything about Peter Silberman’s latest opus, Hospice— from its title, to its stark, blood-red cover image, to its conceptual structure as an album about caring for a terminally ill loved one– would seem to suggest a certain melodrama– so why is it instead a triumph of composition and craft? Silberman may wear his heart on his sleeve, but he’s too smart for emo; he trades in glacial sheets of shoegaze and post-rock noise, but he’s too pop for the avant-garde; and he croons with a choirboy tenor that recalls everyone from Jeff Buckley to Shearwater‘s Jonathan Meiburg, but his compositions are too lavish to fit under the singer-songwriter banner.
Hospice is Silberman’s second full-length outing as Antlers, but where that moniker was once just a pseudonymn, now it’s a full-on band; after the first Antlers record, In the Attic of the Universe, Silberman went into a period of self-imposed exile, but he emerges from his isolation with a newfound sense of community, inviting some friends to flesh out his bedroom fantasies into full-band realities; but if The Antlers make a bigger noise than ever before, their music is still unerringly faithful to the vision of its auteur: Hospice finds its full sound in the new blood flowing through it, but it still feels more like a series of overheard conversations than a pop record.
Silberman channels his period of loneliness and isolation into these songs, which form a (mostly one-way) dialogue between a man and his dying lover; what he captures here is the sound of raw, broken humanity, a pure and simple outpouring of sadness and grief. The history of this couple and their relationship appears like a series of ghosts in the singer’s head, but the whole album seems to take place in just a moment: The singer sits by his beloved’s bed, her limp hand in his own, all the heartache and hard work, the joy and the complications of love dancing arm-in-arm with guilt and regret. An entire relationship seems to unfold in an instant; two become one, and then death tears them apart again. Yet, the feeling of the record is not one of misery, but of incredible catharsis. As the narrator’s heart breaks, it break open, allowing the light to shine through. It becomes not an album about loss, but mourning; not an album about being griefstricken, but about moving on.
Silberman seems to craft his songs from big chunks of sound, but while most in the post-rock world are sonic sculptors, Silberman is more a miner, excavating pure pop melodies from the murky depths. Indeed, this is, if nothing else, a composer’s album: The songs ebb and flow with a precise sense of dynamics and texture, and the expanses of beautiful space are offset by pristine pop hooks. Silberman is a musician who understands the value of a silent pause, the relationship between time and space inside a song, but he’s also a songwriter who crafts achingly pure melodies, songs with momentum and layers of depth.
The record moves steadily from its clattering, droning instrumental prologue to its glorious crescendo, “Wake,” and then into a benedictory, acoustic epilogue with purpose and vision, with elaborate musicality and primitive humanity. Intellectually, it’s an album that rewards repeated spins and careful, attentive listening, but more than that, it’s an album that you feel. That’s the triumph of Hospice: It’s an astonishing marriage of emotion and craft, and the result is an album that’s painfully, disquietingly beautiful, mesmerizing, and bewitching all at once.