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By Nate Jackson
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The Antlers have become a lot more than the Peter Silberman Experience
Every band evolves. Sometimes it’s a gradual thing that’s apparent only in retrospect; sometimes you see it happening right before your eyes and ears. The latter is the case with Brooklyn’s the Antlers, which sprang from the solo recordings of singer/guitarist Peter Silberman. The band are now a fully functioning trio in which keyboardist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner have just as much input as Silberman.
“A lot’s happened, and soundwise we’ve changed,” he says. It started off as my thing, and it’s really not anymore. We’ve really become a real band, where it’s completely collaborative.”
Hospice, the Antlers’ breakthrough album, and the first record by Silberman to feature proper backing, was self-released last March. In August, it garnered a national re-release on the New York label Frenchkiss, which has had a banner year thanks to records by the Dodos and Passion Pit. Hospice earned Pitchfork’s valued Best New Music designation and has set the blogosphere ablaze. That’s meant much touring, including a recent three-night stand at CMJ. Just don’t expect the Antlers to stay faithful to the album versions of their songs.
“They’re still recognizably those songs, but we’ve taken liberties,” admits Silberman. “We expand them and let them breathe. They’re bigger sounding, because the instrumentation is different. There’s a lot of keyboards and reverb. It’s atmospheric.”
Hospice is plenty atmospheric itself. Featuring Cicci and Lerner as well as a temporary bassist and a female backing vocalist, the album is wintry and subtle, with much emotion springing from its precise details. Exploring the parallels between a broken romance and the skewed relationship shared by a caregiver and an abusive patient, it’s a story-driven listen that takes time to blossom. There’s a great deal of stillness and ambiance, which produces great rewards when the music builds to cathartic heights. The instrumentation is gorgeously interwoven, while Silberman’s singing goes ably from haunted whisper to floating falsetto.
“I wanted the record to be varied,” he explains. “I didn’t want it all to be one speed or dynamic range. I wanted it to be broader, and rise and fall. In a way, the record is a soundtrack to the story it’s telling. The music’s there to accentuate different points, and even the instrumental parts are integral. They’re setting the background.”
Although the album’s story contains elements of Silberman’s own experiences and is anchored to a health-inspired premise—thus the title—it’s less about heartbreak or dying than it is about what erodes relationships in general. Silberman says he wanted to explore “specifically dysfunctional and unhappy ones, the breakdown of communication and the manipulation of things. It was an effort to address that and talk about that through this story.”
It’s something he also touched upon with last year’s New York Hospitals EP, which featured thematically linked covers of songs by Yo La Tengo and the Magnetic Fields. “It was these extra ideas that were running through my head,” he recalls. “They’re definitely connected to Hospice. It’s hazier, like a dream sequence.” Silberman had been recording on his own for years prior to assembling a band for Hospice, but few people got to hear his earlier work, which he describes as more electronic and more obviously a solo affair.
Now that the Antlers are a proper trio, the three members have started thinking about the next album, writing bits and pieces separately on the road. “We know how it’s going to sound, I think, but we haven’t started recording,” says Silberman. “Maybe in January we’ll get some time to rebuild our studio and hibernate with it a bit.”
So how’s it going to sound? “We’ve got a bunch of ideas, and it could take on a life totally of its own,” he replies. “Touring has really changed how we sound and what we listen to. While we’re driving, we’ve gotten tired of indie rock. For a while we were really into old soul music, and the past months have been heavy on electronic music. So I think it’s going to be a bit more in those directions.”
It sounds like the Antlers are nowhere near done evolving. Each tour date might even bring them closer to something new, giving audiences a chance to behold the organic, multifaceted changes firsthand.