Pitchfork Review :
Who could've guessed that SNMNMNM were ahead of the curve? In 2009, you kind of need to know some C++ just to talk about bands. The trend began in dreamy California, which gave us the skuzzy-sweet Nodzzz and Wavves, and then migrated as far as Nebraska (UUVVWWZ) and Glasgow (Dananananaykroyd). Meanwhile, in serious Brooklyn, the Antlers were quietly working on a coincidental antithesis to this fad. Hospice answers silliness with solemnity, jitters with nerve. Their band name simply describes their music: a delicately branching instrument of force.
Not that the Antlers are startlingly original-- they're just swinging for the bleachers at a time when it seems fashionable to bunt, or put your forehead on the bat and spin until you get dizzy. Their widescreen sentimentality comes with an equally familiar back-story. You remember the Bon Iver beat: Sad, bearded dude emerges from self-imposed exile with batch of urgently intimate songs; recruits band; self-releases album that earns surprise web-buzz and gets picked up by venerable indie label. Well, the Antlers used to be the solo project of Peter Silberman, who wrote Hospice while emerging from a period of "social isolation." During the bedroom recording process, two guest musicians (drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci) became permanent members. They self-released Hospice in March, and Frenchkiss picked it up after web- and NPR-praise helped sell out its first pressing.
The Antlers' skyscraping blend of the ambient and the anthemic is a far cry from Bon Iver's subtle folksiness, but Silberman and Justin Vernon emerged from their traumas seeming equally scoured and eager to reconnect. Hospice is bereft of irony and cynicism, as befits a rather ghastly narrative that feels, perhaps deceptively, autobiographical. Centered around a relationship with a terminally ill child, and evocatively spun from eerie hospital scenery, snippets of conversations with doctors, terrifying dreams, and the periodic intrusions of Sylvia Plath, it becomes a broad meditation on guilt, duty, mortality, and hope in the face of hopelessness. The emotional payload, while artfully couched, is fervent and bleeding. Silberman's affecting earnestness, not to mention his sweet voice, allows him to pull off lines like, "All the while I know we're fucked/ And not getting un-fucked soon," while sounding more prayerful than cynical.
Given the bluster of the music and its fixation on death and illness (not to mention Silberman's creaky diction and fluttery falsetto), it's impossible not to be reminded of Arcade Fire's Funeral. You could even fix Hospice's precedent a bit earlier-- its starry atmosphere and bludgeoning tenderness evoke Cursive's Domestica with a pop-noise sheen. Like these groups, the Antlers plumb that elusive place where the personally specific becomes universal. They achieve this by keeping the human frailty of the singer intact while inflating his feelings to mythological proportions. You can imagine Silberman, in his isolation, growing world-sized and full; how the emotional forces he grappled with came to seem meteorological.
This sense of the boundary between self and world-at-large collapsing permeates Hospice. The lyrics cover shades of emotion from despairing persistence ("Kettering") to desperate joy (the 21st-birthday fantasia "Bear"); the music tells the same story, through quicksilver currents of tension and tranquility. "Sylvia" alternates between acute frailty and Queen-caliber bravado, guided by the sort of gnarled electronic line the Antlers love (see also the monotonous buzz whipping around the corners of chipper guitar chords on "Two"). But whats really great is how these modulations of weight are integrated into an album-long sweep, with crescendos nested inside decrescendos, coiling surges inside lengthy unwinding passages. It's as vast and empathetic as loneliness itself, a generous framework through which Silberman can show us almost everything: The tiny figure on the horizon and his huge shadow on the mountain, the extreme weathers roiling about him at once symbolic and real.
Brian Howe, August 4, 2009