Album Review: The Antlers – Familiars

By on Monday, 16th June 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

It’s been 3 years since The Antlers released their highly acclaimed LP ‘Burst Apart’ (reviewed by TGTF here), and while that album cut a stark thematic contrast with its predecessor, 2009’s ‘Hospice’, the band’s latest release ‘Familiars’ is a slightly more subtle departure in sound. Rather than a complete change in direction, ‘Familiars’ is more of a refinement of the band’s musical intent. Lyrically solipsistic, the songs here have a distinctly existential feel, and their sonic ambience is stretched out over vast, exploratory instrumental soundscapes.

It’s always difficult to make assumptions about a songwriter’s intentions when he hasn’t specifically stated them, but these lyrics almost certainly center around some kind of major life change, whether real or fictional, personal or observed. Throughout ‘Familiars’, Peter Silberman’s characteristically introspective lyrics are sparse and impressionistic, nebulously evocative rather than emotionally explicit. Even the song titles are obliquely allusive, each consisting of just a single word. Their hazy minimalism is remarkably effective given that all of the tracks are over 5 minutes in length, with the exception of ‘Refuge’, which comes in just shy.

Musically, the songs have a dreamy, groove-based ambience, heavily flavored with artfully dynamic brass. The percussion is likewise sensitive throughout the album, never overwhelming the delicacy of Silberman’s soft falsetto vocals. However, Silberman extends his own dynamic range here with more full-voice singing here than he has done in the past. There are a lot of gloriously singable vocal lines to go along with the swelling instrumental interludes, and Silberman takes full advantage of them, especially on mid-album tracks ‘Director’ and ‘Parade’.

The album’s opening tracks are irresistibly hypnotic, drawing the listener into their lyrical self-examination. First single ‘Palace’ is an inviting opening track featuring lush keyboards and poignant brass melodies. Silberman’s falsetto vocals underscore the beauty of the poetic lyrics, “Now he hangs your mirrors separately / so one can’t see what the other reflects”.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/E9afJSKCOQQ[/youtube]

The jazz harmonies and plaintive horns in ‘Doppelgänger’ reflect a sort of Jekyll and Hyde take on the hidden side of the self, while ‘Hotel’ examines the transient anonymity of travel and spending time alone with oneself. Its vocal line “In the hotel, I can’t remember how the past felt / But in a strange bed, I keep sleeping with my past self” cuts through the steamy ambient haze of the instrumental groove, highlighting the metaphorical moment of clarity in its lyrics. (Have a listen to ‘Hotel’ here, in Mary’s earlier Video of the Moment feature.)

Closing track ‘Refuge’ is the most positive and optimistic song on the album. Its brief, repeated lyrics and simplified song structure bring to rest the uncertainty and doubt of all the previous soul-searching. Its final lines “It’s not our house that we remember / 
It’s a feeling outside it when everyone’s gone but we leave all the lights on anyway” are something of a comfort if not a complete resolution.

The expansive structures and impressionistic imagery on ‘Familiars’ create the kind of sonic mood that could easily fade into the background, but the harmonic variety and moments of clarity in the vocals save it from being bland. The songs do run together a bit toward the end of the album, but overall this works as a cohesive record, demonstrating the deliberate contemplation of Silberman’s songwriting and the refinement of The Antlers’ sound.

8/10

‘Familiars’, the fourth studio album from The Antlers, is out today on Transgressive Records.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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