In a recent interview, The Antlers‘ drummer Michael Lerner said that Burst Apart was much more democratic in its creation process than Hospice. If only democracy worked this well all of the time. Hospice was a masterful demonstration of the power of the concept album, heartbreaking in its narrative – no doubt about it. Those 10 songs launched the band’s name to international acclaim and sold out shows, they changed people’s lives. But, at the same time, it felt like, and was, an expanded version of frontman Peter Silberman’s solo work. A singular vision, perfectly executed. In their live performances, we were privy to the full potential of the band, as the versions of “Sylvia” and “Wake” grew and changed, adding a dimension of power and loudness previously unseen. Their newest LP, Burst Apart, is The Antlers doing just that – Darby Cicci, Michael Lerner, and Peter Silberman freeing themselves from the confines of being typecast as a depressing listen and, more importantly, fully coming into their own as a band. Having said that, we’ll leave Hospice on the shelf for the remainder of this review, as it isn’t really appropriate to compare the two.
Burst Apart begins with “I Don’t Want Love”, a lush track whose upbeat guitar seems to contradict the seriousness of the lyrics. It’s like the clearing of the clouds right after a brutal storm, though, climaxing with the sun coming out and Silberman’s signature falsetto triumphantly ringing atop whirring noise and percussion. It’s moments like this, with Lerner’s drums pounding, Cicci’s soundscapes, and the falsetto seamlessly coming together that make Burst Apart so powerful, not only through emotional catharsis, but through sonic harmony. That’s not to say that the lyrics suffer, though, at all. The Antlers’ songwriting remains visceral and emotive, notably in slower tracks such as “Corsicana”. The thematics throughout the album vary, yet each one is a relatable vignette of something everybody has felt and dealt with. When Silberman croons on “Coriscana” that “We’ve lost our chance to run/now the door’s too hot to touch/we should hold our breath, with mouths together”, the imagery and romantic desperation are nothing short of moving.
Sound-wise, Burst Apart is characterized by textured soundscapes and expansive indulgence in everything from heavy grooves, instrumental interludes, soaring rock and roll, and house music-indebted hypnotics. These forays into such a variety of sounds results in not a random hodge-podge, but a cohesive, creatively arranged collection of songs that work incredibly well together. The trio of Radiohead-esque “Parentheses”, “No Widows” and “Rolled Together” exemplify the post-rock and house presence on Burst Apart – and it’s, frankly, mesmerizing. They each accomplish something unique, through using the same set of tools, attesting to the boundlessness of The Antlers’ abilities. The clattering keys of “Parentheses” alongside endless drum loops and grinding noise are unsettling, whereas “No Widows”‘s narrative atop mournful synthesizer tones is hypnotic and soothing. “Rolled Together” is a song of triumph, crescendoing slowly to end in a joyous combination of cascading horns and Silberman’s lofty falsetto.
It’s interesting to see how current single “Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out” fits into the scheme of the album, as it presents a pretty straightforward tune amidst a slew of different experimentation. It works though, and very well, as a turning point to the more mellow last half of the album. The grooving guitar and atmospheric soundscape is about as hard and heavy as the Antlers have gone, but it’s not burdensome. It especially works with the theme of the song, dealing with nightmare-ish, stressful situations with the haunting, immediate music. At the same time, though, the hypnotic aspect that characterized earlier parts of the album is carried over. Silberman’s repetition of “trying and trying and trying” entrances the listener vocally, instead of instrumentally – maintaining continuity, while allowing a total tempo switch-up. Mellow instrumental interlude “Tiptoe” and “Hounds” follow, maintaining the mood.
Everything that Burst Apart brings to the table and represents is perfectly demonstrated in the final track, “Putting the Dog to Sleep”. With anxious, powerful lines such as “Prove to me/that I’m not gonna die alone” delivered atop swirling guitar and rigid percussion, it’s truly difficult to just not start the album over again once it fades out. As far as weaknesses go, finding one in Burst Apart is immensely difficult. It’s an album executed with skill and finesse, but also with nearly unbridled passion that exudes every aspect of each song. The Antlers know who they are as a band, and now we are fortunate enough to know as well.