, July 26th, 2012 06:49
"I seem different / More removed" coos Peter Silberman on the second track of Undersea - a line which succintly sums up the feel of the latest release from The Antlers. While Hospice (a concept record based on the life and death of a character called Sylvia) wasn't so much a tug as a full-blown yank on the listener's heartstrings, perhaps what is most noticeable about Undersea is its sense of emotive distancing, of creative self-restraint.
Fittingly enough, a sense of submersion imbues the EP - the record is brackish and waterlogged; sound seems lazy, delayed even, mimicking the slow-mo panorama of underwater scenes. 'Drift Dive' is a sublime example of this - a gorgeous pas-de-deux between Peter Silberman and Sharon Van Etten, the track is bolstered by a languid, gently spooling guitar line which cossets their soporific cooing perfectly. On Hospice Silbermann oscillated between brittle falsetto and visceral howl, but here his voice has matured, leavening into a half-articulate drawl, his words braiding and coalescing with the guitar lines to become barely distinguishable from the instruments themselves.
It isn't all woozy and melismatic - 'Endless Ladder' is very nearly funky, if not really bloody catchy, featuring twinkling piano and a sinuous, two-stepping guitar coda. While Hospice was renowned for its prolix, quasi-novelistic lyrics, Undersea finds Silberman becoming increasingly lyrically minimalist, his songs often structured over refrains and phrases, rather than a convoluted narrative arc. Take 'Crest', which finds Silberman howling "Closer to truth, but much, much further" over eddying guitar arpeggios and wilting horns. It's a nonsensical statement, almost paradoxical, but Silberman clearly didn't chose the refrain for semantics - it's a purely musical phrase, chosen for the way the croon slips gracefully over the "closer", before breaking in sharp staccato on "much, much further".
One of the best things to be said for Undersea is its overall sense of progression. The Antlers are a very different band to the one who waxed poetic on skeletal girls with "scissor pain and phantom limbs" on Hospice - both 'Burst Apart' and Undersea have marked a significant shift from the panoramic solipsism of Hospice to a vaguer, more prosaic, more typically indie rock sound. But while the aquatic theme pervading Undersea may make for some interesting sonic experiments, it also acts as a distancing mechanism. Perhaps Silberman's detachment is mere lack of enthusiasm masquerading under a stylistic decision? For all its musical accomplishment, much of Undersea drifts past in a pretty, twinkly daze, leaving little impression in its wake.
Still, it's insincere to attempt to milk the same sense of tragedy twice. Hospice was a masterpiece, but it was decidedly singular in its genius - Peter Silberman & Co have been wise in deciding not to exhume Sylvia's ghost. Let's just hope that the suspension offered on Undersea is just a postponement, while Silberman taps into some fresher emotion.