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The Antlers

Undersea EP

[ANTI- / Transgressive; 2012]

By ; July 16, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Throughout The Antlers’ progression from an acoustic one-man demo to celebrated indie trio, they have consistently maintained a sense of emotional unease. They are fairly outspoken about what their music means, what it’s meant to signify and their frame of reference for the writing process, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take in. A two-sentence synopsis of 2009’s Hospice is draining on its own, never mind actually listening to it.

With last year’s Burst Apart, they let a little more light in, maintaining an atmosphere that was somber but not nearly as disturbed, and broke down a barrier in the process. Undersea, described by the band as “an EP in length, but well beyond that in scope,” builds upon the stylistic shift that The Antlers alluded to on Burst Apart. Much of it plays like an extrapolation of that record’s more ambient, meditative moments; think “Tiptoe” and “Rolled Together.”

The literality of the EP’s title shouldn’t be lost on anyone. These ethereal, submerged lullabies emanate a calmness, a warmth that juts out beyond the reach of the music. On opener “Drift Dive,” Peter Silberman isn’t as front and center as he has been in the past; his lyrics do less of the heavy lifting. His voice is brighter, more grounded, almost relaxed at points. As he sings: “A million pieces in a million places,” it doesn’t seem troublesome, it’s almost as if it’s a good thing. Gentle push/pull dynamics on a slide guitar lend the song a luxurious quality, unspooling as it goes. The molten electronic effects are hauntingly restrained, giving each part of the puzzle its own moment to stand out.

Undersea is not wanting for gravitas, but here The Antlers seem to be focused on creating sounds instead of evoking feelings. “Endless Ladder,” the EP’s eight-and-a-half minute centerpiece, features plinking keyboards with noodly synths spill out in all directions, completely enveloping Michael Lerner’s simple but sure-footed drumming. Its lyrics are predominantly a conduit for the melody, and they manifest as just another buoyant layer. There is no emotional baggage being brought along here, it’s just a mild, intoxicatingly composed piece.

Silberman offers one of his most soulful performances to date on “Crest.” In the past he has been more interested in using his voice to capture his inner conflict, and less interested in vocal power. Here he’s just belting it, wounded and confident in equal measure. The viscous production qualities remain, but a sense of tension that was previously nonexistent begins to develop. “Crest” doesn’t duplicate, but emanates from the same strain of melodious paranoia as “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out.” “They wanna walk all over you,” asserts Silberman, while vexed horns and snapback percussion enhance the looming sense of disquiet.

This record builds a sound like an full-length would, and concludes in a manner that’s just as satisfying as any of the Antlers’ LPs. “Zelda”’s opening lines are reminiscent of Hospice highlight “Epilogue,” but the softened vocals and Darby Cicci’s cascades of electronic shrapnel immediately eschew any thought of The Antlers repeating themselves. It deflates gradually, with a terrific sense of finality. The record’s most prominent guitar riff is found here, and meshes wonderfully with a intensified horn section and harmonized falsetto cooing.

Undersea’s sense of timing will perhaps be its most overlooked attribute. By the 22-minute mark, just as everything begins to blend, it’s over. The scope is indeed considerable; it will seem like you have listened to more than just four tracks. Of course there’s currently no way of telling what any of this will mean for the band’s future, if anything at all. There’s the sense that they have moved on from tell-all narratives for good, but the music is non-committal. It could just be a stepping stone, or it might be an interesting place to stop off at and explore. If Undersea does indeed signify the beginning of a new chapter for The Antlers, it’s pretty great so far.


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