all words: Phil Runco
all photos: Aditya Banerjee
The Antlers strolled onto Black Cat’s stage to the tune of Sam Cooke’s sprightly classic, “Having a Party.” The Brooklyn band doled out smiles and quick half-waves, dressed as if they had been plucked from a J. Crew casting call. “So listen, Mr. DJ,” Sam kindly requested, “keep those records playing, ‘cause I’m having such a good time dancing with my baby.”
Just to clarify: we were about to see a band whose breakthrough album was an emotional bloodletting about cancer and hospitals and mental abuse, right? A band whose most accessible song tackles the radio-bate subject of abortion? A band that ends its recently released LP, Burst Apart, with an extended metaphor for an ill-fated relationship titled, “Putting the Dog to Sleep”?
Shouldn’t we be bracing for a pity party, Sam?
As the night progressed, the answer became a pretty clear “apparently not”: while frontman Peter Silberman may touch on some heavy shit, it’s not getting his band – or its fans – down. “You wanna climb up the stairs / I wanna push you back down / But I let you inside / So you can push me around,” Silberman sang on opener “I Don’t Want Love”, and while you’d expect it to be a downer, the stately tune unfolded with shimmering guitars and a steady back-beat. Damned if the whole thing didn’t end up feeling uplifting.
“I Don’t Want Love” is representative of the band’s m.o. on Burst Apart, wedding pensive and gently chugging rhythms with celestial wash and swell. It certainly isn’t kind of streamlined music you would have predicted the band would make after the catharsis-or-bust bombast of 2009’s Hospice. This is slinky, nighttime stuff akin to what Wild Beasts is producing, but with the Antlers trading that band’s swinging undulations for steadier, reverberating power.
Like Wild Beasts, the Antlers are blessed with a singer whose falsetto exists on an otherworldly plane. Whereas on Hospice Silberman alternated between that falsetto and a lower-registered sing-speak, his voice rarely leaves the upper stratum on Burst Apart. It’s a good look for him, especially live where it carries with greater strength.
In fact, nearly all of Burst Apart transferred exceptionally well to the Black Cat stage: the propulsion and guitar crunch of “Parenthesis”; the ebb-and-flow of drifting “Rolled Together”; the tightly-coiled grooves of “Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out.” These songs never really peak so much as lurch compellingly forward, guitars chords methodically rippling out and Silberman’s coo hovering above it all.
This material stood in contrast to Hospice’s, on which the band dug a little deeper. Veins bugled and skin flushed as Silberman emoted the distress of “Bear” and “Two”. Volume escalated substantially during the encore’s “Kettering’ and “Wake”.
But louder doesn’t necessarily mean more engaging. I’ll be honest: Hospice never sat particularly well with me – its sonics are cluttered and the hooks too few to really connect with – and Tuesday did little to persuade me otherwise, especially as band tried to adapt their acoustic palette into Burst Apart’s electric (and electronic) soundscapes. The end result was muddled, however passionate.
The beauty of Burst Apart, ironically, is how well the Antlers prove they can keep it together.