Really, there’s not much left to say about The Antlers’ Hospice that hasn’t been already said. It’s an album that’s been marveled at and lauded by just about every critic to run across it, and for good reason. It’s a tender, yet decidedly intense concept album revolving around the loss of a loved one to cancer; and while this sort of project could easily lead to sap, melodrama or self-promotion in the hands of another, The Antlers have made it sincerely heartrending.
Peter Silberman’s story, who started The Antlers as a solo project, is just about as melancholy as the tales contained within Hospice. He moved to New York seeking isolation, and had originally intended the sweeping set of songs in Hospice to be his swan song before leaving the music industry for an uncertain amount of time. After making The Antlers a trio and self-releasing the album, the sudden, unexpected success acted as a catalyst for a later re-mastered label release, a tour, as well as time set aside in the future for another EP and full-length after that. Silberman had later said that the idea of making music full-time was becoming a very exciting concept.
The album itself is a quiet masterpiece which cannot be overestimated. Its sound wavers from electronic noise to acoustic indie pop, and much like the lyrical concepts within, the music is murky and dark but not without humanity and the faintest glimpses of hope. From the record’s instrumental open (“Prologue”), which builds off nothing more than resonant chords and background noise, it sets the stage for something epic. Like much of the music, the intro flows without pause into the next track (“Kettering”) where we’re introduced to Silberman’s delicate tenor, a less-ethereal version of Antony Hegarty. A piano now joins the fray, as the album begins taking its musical shape. Lyrically, the album is a poetic wonder, and couples the music’s deep emotive qualities with harrowing descriptions of the processes involved in the singer’s life.
Silberman has said that these ideas contained within Hospice are partially based on real-life experiences as well as other benchmarks in his life such as nightmares. What’s fascinating about it all, regardless of inspiration, is how vivid and realistically disturbing much of this is. Take “Bear”, for example, the clearly tortured perspective of youth and an abortion: “There’s a bear inside your stomach/The cub’s been kicking from within/He’s loud, though without vocal chords/We’ll put an end to him… We’re too old/We’re not old, old at all.” This is jarring stuff, sung over a gentle, music box-like accompaniment. One song like this is heavy enough, but an entire album of this sort of austere material leads to one of the staples of great art, and something devoid from so much of the new music being made today, fervent self-examination. It’s here, throughout, in glorious excess.