The Antlers’ Undersea flows and drifts along more hypnotically than anything this band has previously created.
Nearly four years ago they crafted an elaborately poetic concept album about a young woman dying of bone cancer and a hospice worker who becomes her lover, fails to save her life and is doomed to watch helplessly as she slowly fades away. The album documents a series of ordeals, including an unplanned pregnancy, that the couple must deal with alongside the ever-present looming threat of death. The result was one of the most gorgeously morose concept albums in recent history, full of cruel realism as well as stirring creativity. Writing such an album would be no easy feat for most bands, but to lyricist Peter Silberman, it made almost perfect sense to delve into the darker side of human emotion.
A more opaque and less outwardly tragic form of melancholy appears in Hospice’s wake. If the 2009 album represented the sorrow and finality of death, Undersea writes an eloquent eulogy in its memory, and even dares to hope for a peaceful repose beyond the grave. But Silberman still preys inexhaustibly upon your emotions; after all, good music inspires, while great music disturbs. The turmoil is more hushed, the subject matter is less devastating—but the chaos is still constantly present. Without treading too far into the tripped-out world of fantasy, Undersea manages to be demanding and emotionally provocative, though more subdued, and definitely more positive overall.
The album begins with the sensation of floating on a calm, undisturbed sea. As it begins to unravel, you quickly sink down into a bittersweet dreamworld that one can easily envision the characters of Hospice also occupying, although admittedly in a happier parallel universe where the fates were kinder to them. It provides a feeling of structured ambient tranquility along with traces of vibrant psychedelia.
This album is only an EP, but its length—the final song, “Zelda,” is over fifteen minutes long—and extravagance ensure that it feels like a complete experience, similar to the scope of a full-length album. Its cool simplicity is not easily forgotten. Sparse keyboards and subtle lyrics suggest that the band is headed in a different direction, one of understated reflection and wistful longing.
Silberman is now 25; his lyrics now begin to present the more balanced attitudes of adulthood, rather than the self-fulfilling angst of adolescence. He has matured musically as well as lyrically. His habit of writing very economically—a few words go a long way, and truthfully, what is left unsaid probably says a great deal more—allows you the opportunity to apply your own experiences and ideas. And there are truly brilliant moments; the highly clever lyrics found in “Endless Ladder,” which muses on the complexities of time, serve as one of the indisputable highlights of the album.