Burst Apart (April 2011) is The Antlers second album as a fully fledged band, following the critically acclaimed Hospice (March 2009). Two years in the making, the oft-repeated maxim of the “difficult second album syndrome” need not apply. There is distinct progression here: a new spectrum of tones, wider range of emotions, more expansive sounds and greater use of ‘live’ electronics.
Lead singer Peter Silberman’s falsetto soars over distorted guitars, crunching percussion from Michael Lerner, and shimmering keyboads from Darby Cicci. The sound is more complex and with greater dynamic scope than Hospice, the lyrics are as compelling and confessional. The dominant poetic voice here is melancholy, grief without a determinant object.
Again, Silberman’s lyric writing and story-telling prove compelling. The Antlers began life as a Silberman solo project. Silberman released two albums Uprooted (2006) and In The Attic of the Universe (2007), before branching out and recruiting Lerner and Cicci. Burst Apart sounds like a step forward from Hospice in terms of collaboration between the three musicians.
The choral tones and harmonies evoke The Microphones, whose single “Antlers” is the derivation of the band’s name. The Microphones also began as a solo project before Phil Elvrum embraced collaboration. The Antlers is an appropriate moniker, as the trio offer velvet voices, angular and piercing guitars, and grinding rhythms. Their music is soft then hard, the lyrics are like antenna tuning into the highs and lows of emotional frequencies. We might even expect a stag to emerge from the cover artwork of Burst Apart (Zan Goodman), which looks like an amber forest: a petrified avenue of trees leading to an incandescent heart.
Where Hospice mused on death, Burst Apart seizes on the wrench of love, sex and the fear of commitment. It begins with the exclamatory I Don’t Want Love (3:19).
The choral swell and repetitive figures chime out the post-coital regret. After a glass too many, we find ourselves together. Our defences down, we relent.
We wake up with pounding heads,
Bruised down below.
I should have built better walls,
Or slept in my clothes.
The Depeche Mode pop sound of French Exit (4:03), with its hurdy-gurdy of swirling synthesisers, disguises a dark undertow of possession, demand and entrapment.
Best to leave quickly after sex before I become “an animal trapped in your hot car” (Radiohead, “All I Want”).
Everyone I hold holds me strangled, sweet and smart
I’m not a puppy you take home, don’t bother trying to fix my heart.
Parentheses (3:26) pulls us further into the darkness with more distortion, deconstructed sounds, and greater attack from the voice (Shara Worden AKA My Brightest Diamond provides backing vocals) and guitar.
We find ourselves in a trip-hop land like Massive’s Mezzanine, a soundscape reminiscent of Radiohead circa 1997. Is this just a one-night stand, a meeting to be forgotten, bracketed and left on the shelf?
So close up your knees,
And I’ll close your parentheses.
No Widows (5:19) reads like a paean to the single life. The harmonies, crash beats and plaintive organ remind us that single can be lonely but beautiful, and at least there is no hurt for the other, no burden.
No shirts to hang or fold,
No kid out in the cold,
No widows on the walls,
No widows on the phone.
Rolled Together (4:36) perhaps brings us back to the act itself, or perhaps the languid moment post sex, when the fragile moments of togetherness are also the moments when things begin to fall apart. When love starts to descend into hate. The recurring lyric and musical motifs incant a ritual that we are condemned to repeat:
Pulled together but about to burst apart
Rolled together with a burning paper heart
Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out (3:25) builds gradually to a furious guitar and mandolin attack with layers of vocal tracks. Are we dreaming of sex? A phone insists on our attention somewhere in the background. Is it the ex calling? We are condemned to repeat.
One dumb night I’ll make a point to take an old verboten route
And one dumb night I’ll take you out to the bar we’ve both blacked out
One dumb night two bad decisions, we’re too high to cancel out
You and I divorced but not devout.
Tiptoe (2:21) is the lull after the storm. This is the album’s tipping point, signalling a quieter more contemplative mood.
Here is a quieter space, wordless and careful. Try not to make a sound, make for the door in the early morn, slip the latch and creep into the crepuscular stillness, the mist of forgetfulness.
Hounds (5:18) continues this more gentle and tender space, building from a solo guitar to a harmony of horns. Here the howls seem to yearn for a mate.
They want to conquer you
I want to burden you
Belong to you
But all is not completely well.
I want to sever you
Defend against you
Corsicana (3:37) spells out that there is no turning back. Everything has changed and is in a new relationship. Yet this is fraught with danger. The kiss sucks out the air.
We should shut that window we both left open now
We lost our chance to run
Now the door’s too hot to touch
We should hold our breaths with our mouths together now
The Guardian apes Pitchfork and regards the finale Putting The Dog To Sleep (5:48) as a “misstep”, an overwrought “power ballad” with “histrionic vocals”.
Certainly, the lyrics are a cry from the soul:
Prove to me I’m not gonna die alone
Put your arm around my collarbone
But this is far from a “power ballad”. It is certainly a surprising crescendo, just like the backbeat guitar chops that pierce the chloroform. Here we have a call to preserve the relationship.
Don’t lie to me if you’re putting the dog to sleep
That pet you just couldn’t keep
And couldn’t afford
Well prove to me I’m not gonna die alone
Is this a “last minute happy ending snatched from the jaws of despair”(130 BPM)? Have the hounds of love won? Can the wounds be healed? Can Patch be patched?
Well my trust in you is a dog with a broken leg
Tendons too torn to beg for you to let me back in
You said “I can’t prove to you you’re not gonna die alone
But trust me to take you home
To clean up that blood all over your paws”
But then, right at the end, we are left with a further ambiguity:
Put your trust in me
I’m not gonna die alone … I don’t think so …
Is that “I don’t think I am going to die alone”, or “I don’t think I can put my trust in you”?
Whatever the answer, the truth is that this is a consistently good album with fine poetic lyrics and musicianship. We can trust The Antlers to deliver a great story.