“You wanna climb up the stairs / I wanna push you back down” begins Burst Apart, suggesting that The Antlers’ follow up to their breakthrough Hospice could be another harrowing story of abuse. As the album unfolds, however, it turns out that Burst Apart is much more complex than its predecessor, both emotionally and musically. Hospice was simple in its premise: one man in an awful situation with a strong desire to get him and his loved one out of it. Burst Apart is a series of meditations on other life struggles, disconnected from each other, but they all build a human centre to the album that brings the album to a living whole. Like last time, Peter Silberman portrays a man whose neuroses eat away at him, but this time his reaction seems to be mostly grim acceptance of his situations.
“Rolled Together” the fifth song and centre of the album – is the key here thematically. Although there are only two lines repeated – “rolled together with a burning paper heart / rolled together but about to burst apart,” this summarises the recurring worries beautifully. He doesn’t feel in control of his life (they’ve been rolled together); he feels strongly, but painfully and maybe not genuinely (he has a burning paper heart); and when things are getting to be too serious they self destruct: burst apart.
The exorcism of the inner turmoil is helped greatly by the musical soundscapes, which are much more than mere backdrops on this album. The undulating synths characterise the agitation of “I Don’t Want Love,” the forlorn organ of “No Widows” emphasises the despair, the relatively frantic guitar and mandolin in “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” show that even in sleep there’s no peace from this depression. Moreover, The Antlers have proven here that they are masters of sonic composition. There are nods here to other artists – notably Amnesiac-era Radiohead in the mechanistic build and cut of “Parentheses,” and Björk at its poppier moments – but for the most part The Antlers let their own sound bloom. The level of depth and detail in the songs are beyond what would normally be expected from a three piece still this early in their genesis. Supplementary layers such as bubbling electronics, regal horns, and even wind-tunnel sound effects adorn most songs to the point of drowning out the vocals on some occasions – which I don’t doubt was the intention since Silberman’s characters here are being drowned by their emotions. Note must also be given to Silberman’s vocals, notably his soaring falsetto, which communicates his melodramatic mood even in lyrically sparse songs like “Hounds” and “Corsicana.”
All of this builds to the album’s magnificent conclusion, “Putting The Dog To Sleep,” in which Silberman considers an ultimate possibility of a breakup: dying alone. However, Silberman brilliantly turns the song on its head, for once taking into account the words of his partner: “I can’t prove to you you’re not gonna die alone, but trust me to take you home, and clean up that blood that’s all over your paws.” It’s perhaps the thing you least expected from Burst Apart: a last minute happy ending snatched from the jaws of despair. And Burst Apart is full of wonderful little surprises like this, that add up to two big ones: that The Antlers didn’t try to follow up Hospice by repeating themselves, and nevertheless, that they have delivered a more than worthy successor.