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The Antlers' dark, dream-pop

The Antlers - Hospice
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 10, 2009
The Antlers

Review by Tony Bonyata

The Antlers started out a few years ago as just a one-man project - with Peter Silberman recording songs by himself in his Manhattan kitchen. But along the way he began working with other musicians, most notably drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci as the band's primary touring line-up. And the expanded line-up has taken Silberman's self-styled dream-pop to new euphoric heights on the band's third full-length release Hospice.

Although this effort was two years in the making, it was well worth the wait as Hospice is filled with challenging indie-pop that is ethereal and harrowing one moment and sprawling and epic the next. Silberman's original concept for the record may have been directly tied to his disappearance from the scene after relocating to New York in 2006 , but the end result is a concept album with a deep, dark and telling narrative of a terminally ill girl's days in hospice.

The album starts off with over three minutes of gentle ambient soundscapes before Silberman's frail voice opens up the story, "Walking in that room when you had tubes in your arms, those singing morphine alarms out of tune kept you sleeping and even." But as quickly as the story pulls you in, it's really the accompanying melody - sweet and simple - that draws you in even further. On "Sylvia" Silberman begins the song with a lilting voice, which eventually gives way to a pleading and passionate cry during the cacophonic chorus which swells and crashes with orchestrated noise.

Comparisons to Radiohead may already be forming, but The Antlers actually have more in common with Arcade Fire. Not only does the concept of the mental and physical effects of hospice mirror Arcade Fire's stunning debut Funeral (which dealt with a number of family deaths within the band), but musically there's a lineage as well. But whereas Arcade Fire utilizes age-old instruments to create their grand chamber-pop, The Antlers flesh out their indelible and often haunting melodies with sonic washes and swelling white noise from indecipherable instrumentation.

Despite the nightmares (both imagined and real) that weave throughout the story-line, the music that accompanies them is, at times, beautiful and filled with hope, as witnessed on the closing acoustic number "Epilogue," the atmospheric pop of "Shiva" and the bittersweet "Wake," complete with a calming wash of ambient noise underneath Silberman's soothing vocal delivery, before the song takes flight at the end giving the impression of both body and soul being gracefully and eternally seperated.

Hospice is a dark and affecting collection of ambient dream-pop that, while not for everyone, proves to be the first minor masterpiece of the year.

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