The Antlers made a pretty sad record. You’ve probably heard it: despite being one of the most unrelentingly despairing albums in recent memory, Hospice (2009) quickly transformed from self-released bedroom project to one of the most lauded and loved records of the year, bringing the band a legion of new fans and sending the trio into bigger and bigger live venues. It’s a success story, but not a surprising one—yes, the concept album’s narrative focused on a doomed relationship between a hospice worker and a cancer patient, but head Antler (no pun intended) Peter Silberman crafted the tale with such precision and heart-wrenching detail that it was almost impossible to tear yourself away from the gloom. It also didn’t hurt that the music on the record matched the quality of his lyrics tit-for-tat, building and releasing at a perfect pace, equal parts post-rock sprawl and classic pop songcraft.
Now, Silberman returns with Burst Apart, his first record released under the spotlight and the first Antlers album produced by a full band—multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner have joined the group full-time, writing the album with Silberman instead of just filling out his material on tour. They had to be feeling the pressure. Hospice had the benefit of coming out of nowhere for many listeners, an exciting surprise or even a powerful revelation. Burst Apart will come attached to expectations… and sky-high ones, at that.
That sound you hear is a collective exhalation by the the Antlers’ audience. Not only does Burst Apart rise to the occasion of following up an instant classic, it might even best Hospice in more ways than one. No, Silberman did not write another album-length narrative, but you’d be hard-pressed to blame him. Burst Apart sounds like a band pushing forward, building on their past explorations but taking them into new directions. Touchstones for Hospice abound: “Rolled Together” and “Tiptoe” place ambience at the forefront, stretching out their atmospherics to the corners of the mix; “No Widows” cloaks Silberman’s voice in reverb as he contemplates death and absence; “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” begins coyly before ending in a cathartic release.
But for every echo of the band’s past work, Burst Apart brings something different to the fold. The record’s focus on rhythm proves the most prominent shift, with “French Exit” and “Parentheses” positively grooving by on staccato riffs and Silberman’s cooing falsetto. Try to imagine the lovers in Hospice starting a dance party in the ICU. Kudos to Silberman for upending expectations. He and the band do so in other ways, too, through the stately bravado of the majestic “I Don’t Want Love” and the touches of banjo in “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” and trumpet in several tracks. The Antlers experiment here, but they do so with a sense of restraint and subtlety that speaks to their confidence as a band.
When Silberman returns to the lyrical themes of Hospice, he examines them from different angles. “I Don’t Want Love” tells the story of another broken couple, but here the narrator manages to escape its pull before he gets sucked under. “Corsicana” finds beauty in destruction, managing to convince its listener to believe in the appeal in a way that Hospice did not. Most notably, the album’s closer, “Putting the Dog to Sleep”, finishes the record on a note of hard-won hope, with Silberman singing, “Put your trust in me / I’m not going to die alone.” Contrast the sentiment to that of “Epilogue”, the final track on his previous album, where the narrator sinks conclusively into despair. Burst Apart is clearly the work of the same songwriter, but it never sounds like a mere retread. The Antlers’ belief in this material comes through loud and clear, and it will likely resonate with a new multitude of fans, as well.