Emerging from “Hospice” with something full of life
by Paul Kitti
The Antlers created more than an album with 2009’s “Hospice.” Through creatively restrained atmospheric instrumentation and honest, grief-stricken vocals, they told a story of love and sickness and loss that struck a fierce emotional chord in what is now a dedicated fan base. It was the kind of album that bled incredible care and affection through the headphones of every listener, and, like any good story, it spread.
Now, more eyes are on The Antlers as they release “Burst Apart,” an album that finds the band keeping some elements of “Hospice” in their backpacks while exploring new territory. After nearly two years of touring in support of “Hospice,” frontman Peter Silberman, drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci self-produced the new album in their Brooklyn studio over a period of five months. And, as The Antlers now prepare for summer shows in Europe, Canada, and the United States, fans can expect to hear a band that has emerged from the chaotic aftermath of the brilliant “Hospice” with a new sound and energy that is no less powerful or inspiring and is likely to attract even more ears.
“We didn’t have a blueprint for [‘Burst Apart’],” says Cicci. “We conceptualized it, not in the way Hospice was conceptualized, but in understanding the arch and the mood and the textures, basically figuring out what it was going to sound like. Then we went into the studio and tried to make what we imagined, rather than going in with a bunch of songs sketched out in advance.”
It had to have been a daunting challenge, following up an album that was received by thousands on a personal level. But The Antlers are a group of talented, dynamic musicians who have managed to produce a follow-up that stands apart from “Hospice” as a bold, defining next step for the band.
“Having had a first record that was successful, kind of accidentally, there are a lot of traps you can fall into trying to make a sophomore album,” Cicci explains. “There’s a lot going on in your head, like, do we try to make the same kind of record for the people who already like us or do we try to make something different? But you try not to make a record for how people are going to react to it. […] You try to make a record for yourself—one you would want to actually sit at home and listen to, otherwise you can fall into these traps that can misdirect you.”
“We’re really happy with the record,” Cicci adds. “And if everyone hates it, that’s fine, I will still listen to it,” he laughs.
The Antlers is the first band Cicci has been a part of, and he admits he was caught off guard by their rapid growth following “Hospice.” Since that album’s release, music has become his full time job as the band has been playing in larger venues before a snowballing fan base.
“The past two years we’ve played bigger and bigger rooms, and you have to start to fill the room with sound a little better,” Cicci says. “When there’s four to six thousand people in huge rooms, you have to respond to that in a way that’s not quiet – you have to become bigger and bolder.”
It’s a mission they seem to have accomplished in “Burst Apart.” And, while it’s easy to note the differences between this album and its predecessor, describing the Antlers’ overall sound is still a challenge.
“We’re sort of a rock band, kind of ambient at times, kind of electronic-y at times, kind of dark… It’s very difficult to explain,” Cicci says. “It’s not something you can categorize easily. I guess you could just say we’re a rock band—that’s the simple answer.”
And, while attempting to describe “Hospice” would be like summarizing a story that can only be appreciated when told in full, “Burst Apart” is no different.
There is a strong presence of electronic music on “Burst Apart,” a style the band has taken interest in and incorporated alongside Silberman’s emotive vocals and tensive guitar effects. But other influences contribute to their emerging sound as well, making for an album that is as difficult to classify as it is unified in vision.
“We listened to a lot of electronic music and spent long hours in the van listening to reggae and dubstep and soul town,” Cicci recalls. “On Sirius radio there was this station that was mostly all Motown and soul and even some old funk, and that really worked its way in. We spent a whole tour listening to Motown.”
While it would be incorrect to say “Burst Apart” bears no relation to “Hospice,” fans can expect something that is similarly tragic yet also hopeful, a sound that communicates frustration and confidence, focus and range.
Cicci clarifies the distinction, saying, “We’re not really doing anything anti-‘Hospice’ with this record, but this isn’t a sequel to ‘Hospice.’ It’s not part two of a story. We imagined this was the first record we were releasing and we could do whatever we wanted, and used the things we like about our music and its origin to make something that we feel is cohesive and fun and not necessarily similar to what we have done before.”
He also pointed out that while the band was pleased with “Hospice” and its warm reception, they were careful not to adhere to any labels that the album may have placed them under. With “Burst Apart,” Cicci says, “We wanted to make more of a summer record, something you can drive around and listen to or sit outside in the sun and hear. It’s not necessarily a happy record, but there’s feelings of optimism and there’s less despair and confusion – a little more hope.”
Regardless of whether or not their sound can be categorized, one thing is for sure—this is a band that bleeds honest emotion, both through their recordings and live performances, and their simultaneously bold and vulnerable sound can be attributed to a deep appreciation for the power of music.
“I can’t imagine not having [music],” Cicci says. “It has always been an outlet for me. It’s a product of emotion, and it’s just there, and it’s beautiful. It’s a naturalistic impulse to create something. It’s very comforting and reminds us all that we’re human and helps take our minds off the inevitabilities of life and death. It’s kind of what helps you figure out things about the world and about yourself.”
“Burst Apart” was released on May 10, 2011. The Antlers will perform on June 12 at the Magic Stick in Detroit. Doors are at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $13 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster. All ages are welcome.