Album Review: The Antlers – Green to Gold

[ANTI-/Transgressive; 2021]

This album was not supposed to exist. On a cool Autumn afternoon back in 2017, three years after their previous album, The Antlers’ social media implied that it was over – the whole thing. The band who brought grown men to their knees sobbing with Hospice, the band who managed to transcend post-rock into folk without hiccup, the band who followed their own intuition rather than picking the low-hanging fruit – was calling it quits. The collective shock that rippled through the music world that day was unironically met with the same somber tone that’s underscored much of the band’s work. The Antlers were done.

Except they weren’t. What was “misunderstood” was that they were simply remaining on hiatus. A collective sigh of relief was let out and business resumed as normal, but this miscommunication was enough to cast doubt on further material from the band, and with the unexpected departure of founding keyboardist Darby Cicci in 2019, the future was looking bleak for another album.

Where Green to Gold, the band’s first new album since 2014’s Familiars, comes into play is fascinating to the say the least. After years of inactivity, their first new song “Wheels Roll Home”, which appeared last October, felt like a warm embrace after too much time apart. It was brighter but more subtle than where they left us. Those longing for a return to the post-rock of Hospice or the more jagged features of Burst Apart won’t be too deterred by Green to Gold, but they shouldn’t expect a retread of anything previous.

“Wheels Roll Home” isn’t as thrilling of a first impression as “Parentheses” was, but it’s a grand one nonetheless, and it doesn’t need much deciphering to determine the mindset of Peter Silberman and Michael Lerner; “we gotta make believe that you’ll be right back / like you never left / like you mailed yourself to your return address.” The Antlers are ready to come back, and they’ve done so with their clearest intentions.

This homecoming motif stretches throughout Green to Gold and harmonizes with the time shifting theme gleaned from song titles – “Solstice,” “Equinox”, and the album’s title itself, which evokes the shift from Summer to Autumn. It’s all shaded with Silberman’s vibrant imagery; “This is the first day the flowers wilt and fold,” he sings on “It Is What It Is”, reminding us that there’s this ominous ticking-clock on our lives, just like the end of a season when trees become barren. “We can see in the dark with our sunset light / we delay the dusk / keepin’ bright, bright, bright,” he tells us on “Solstice” with a near hushed voice, but he’s surrounded with one of the album’s livelier backdrops. It’s a wonderful moment of elegance in motion.

This focus on shimmering ephemeral moments is complimented by more organic instrumentation. Silberman’s taken over keyboards, but rather than going for an overboard synth-laden effect he relies more on traditional piano key arrangements on songs like “Stubborn Man” and “Porchlight”. Their Undersea EP from 2012 gave a hint that this was the future of The Antlers, but it’s much more pronounced on Green to Gold.

No doubt there will be those who find Green to Gold just a little too light on the intensity and too heavy on the sentimentality, but this is a necessary and expected progression for The Antlers. With Silberman’s tinnitus worsening, they had no choice but to dial back. This doesn’t mean that Green to Gold is a tepid experience, far from it, it’s just a bit more stripped down and laid back. This is a sound that fits comfortably with The Antlers, now more than a decade into their existence, and while this album doesn’t take many risks and stays fairly safe, it’s at least a welcome departure from the cloudy production on Familiars.

While his voice might not be the same as it once was – he literally can’t reach the heights he did on a song like “Sylvia” without doing more damage to his ears – what Silberman’s managed to accomplish with Green to Gold is admirable. Instead of quitting music he’s pushed forward and accepted his limitations in pursuit of his passion. Green to Gold is as much about the seasons changing as it is the changing of a dream over time. We’re expected to adapt as things change, and that’s exactly what The Antlers have done.