herald

Monday 23 April 2018

Soup

"Headphone music," is how multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci describes the latest sonic developments in The Antlers. And, by golly, he's about right.

Our elected representatives may get what politicians call "walking around money" but slap on this latest collection from the Brooklyn trio and you'll feel richer than Ivor Callely. Whadaya mean, who's he? He's the cat described by my colleague John Drennan as "a one-man poster boy for the venal cupidity of a political system". But enough of the Social Studies, let's rock!

Following the release of the elegiac Hospice, a conceptual bundle of laughs about a doomed love affair with the female subject on the way out, The Antlers got busy on the road. That they opened a bunch of shows for The National may be of significance.

Certainly, The Antlers have similarly mastered the subtle nuances of painting an evocative abstract landscape with dreamlike sheets of harmony. Their songs are constructions with the nagging power of haunted buildings, ghost estates, lonely avenues.

Arcade Fire passed through these parts on their way to super-stardom. But The Antlers take a more leisurely journey.

Originally, The Antlers was Peter Silberman. Following two essentially solo albums, the trio emerged for a couple of EPs and then Hospice. The group's new internal dynamic is thrilling in its subtlety.

Silberman's ethereal falsetto provides the main focus. Sometimes it's swaddled in muffled drums and shards of guitar arpeggios. On Parentheses he sounds like a wounded Antony Hegarty as The Antlers wrestle with a trip-hop template bequeathed by Portishead, a good thing.

It's Silberman who shapes the group's narrative. "It's a record about trying to understand happiness," he says, hoping we'll stop saying he's master of melancholy. "It's also about change, making different decisions and trying to understand yourself better."

We believe you! But a chill wind blows through Putting The Dog To Sleep as Silberman pleads, "Prove to me I'm not going to die alone . . . ." Slow and mournful, it's not one to request for a friend who's got a sick pet.

There's a variety of moods on Burst Apart. Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out romps along with what sounds like a banjo plonking in primordial sonic soup as Silberman hits Repeat on the word "try". The image, I'm told, denotes sexual frustration. Not since Marvin Gaye has someone been so passionate about getting his Nat.

Remarkably, there's hardly any filler on Burst Apart. Corsicana might seem slight but its gentle haunting guitar fills the void and provides a suitable galactic sweep for an operatic vocal moan that sounds as if it comes from beyond the stars.

If they play Dublin on their European tour later in the year, expect some expressive dancing down the front when they play French Exit. With its bubbly beat and laconic vocal, a remix could deliver the band a bona fide chart hit. Not that they'd welcome it.

The Antlers are one of a few bands who've jumped off from where Radiohead indicated there might be exciting possibilities. In doing so, they're creating music of mystery, majesty and metaphysical intrigue. HHHHI

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