The Antlers – Hospice

[Frenchkiss; 2009]

Quietly resting in Brooklyn, creativity buzzes around the musical haven. The Antlers rest amidst this neighborhood. However, unlike fellow ambient indie bands today, the Antlers push the boundary between the personal and public worlds by forcing the listener to face the very morality that youthful music denies.

The title of the album, Hospice, brings the listener even closer to that morality. Hospice is a special concept of care designed to provide comfort and support to patients and their families. Patients are referred to hospice when life expectancy is approximately six months or less. It is an end-of-life option and nearly one out of three people in the United States die in the care of hospice. This simple word choice by the Antlers articulates the beauty and pain of life’s cycle.

Hospice is a concept album about a man losing a loved one to bone cancer while he stays beside her. Nightmares, ghosts, hospital machinery, and attempted suicide flood the lyrics, while the tender sounds of Silberman’s vocals and gently ringing guitars remains calm and therapeutic. The opening song of the album “Prologue”, for example, proves this sentiment. The lyrics describe a dilemma around an unplanned pregnancy. This song perfectly encapsulates the themes of the album as a whole. It juxtaposes the overwhelming feelings of love with the real sense of romantic estrangement. As with all of the other tracks, positive comes with negative. The Antlers unite childhood memories with adult feelings of defenselessness. There is a happy ending, but you have to scrape your knee before you get there.

The power of the album lies in the albums ability to destroy hope. It grabs the inherent feelings of invincibility of the youth and forces them to face their own morality. They may cringe and want to divert back towards innocence, but they cannot. The upfront stare of Hospice into the eyes of the youth is too strong.They are morose and intense, but they are real. When the listener faces his or her morality, he or she begins to sense the intricacies of life, instead of just stumbling over what that youthful flexibility believed to be hard times. This album marks the journey of life more than most albums because it is not dramatic or overly heavy. It mimics the movement of life as subtle ups and downs. Life does not progress in a binge of emotion. Rather, it hits us all in different ways, as this album does as well.

The Antlers are as commanding as musicians as they are poets. Hospice brings Silberman’s descent into the inferno an unerring dramatic instinct and an ability to transfix the listener by a profound, imaginative manipulation of the tragic and the blackly funny aspects of the experience. Hospice is an unsettling album. Maybe all The Antlers are trying to say is that we are all living in a hospice. But not one that is not defined by four white walls and attentive nurses. It may be that we all need this type of tender care because life is tough. It’s true.