The Antlers evolve beautifully with ‘Familiars’

By Nathan Frontiero

(Courtesy of Joselito Tagarao/Flickr)
(Joselito Tagarao/Flickr)

Seven years ago, The Antlers’ front man Peter Silberman had his heart broken.

From that deep anguish came “Hospice,” The Antlers’ third album that transformed the group from Silberman’s lo-fi solo project into a fully realized band. The album saw the songwriter dealing directly with the throes of an emotionally abusive relationship, and “Burst Apart” followed with an equally heavy collection of songs centered on sexual frustration and uncertainty.

On “Familiars,” the band’s fifth album, released June 16, it seems Silberman has finally found a sense of peace.

Emotional storytelling persists throughout The Antlers’ catalog. The band’s music strikes the seemingly paradoxical balance between lyrical melancholy and sonic uplift. Even amongst the most despondent subjects, the band constructs lush, gorgeously intricate soundscapes that surround listeners.

The eerie warmth of “Burst Apart” succeeded the chilling intimacy of “Hospice,” and “Familiars” marks yet another palette shift. Here the aural colors are soft and bright, a fitting accompaniment to songwriting that reconciles with persistent tensions and meditates questions of identity.

While the band’s previous two releases certainly contained personal music, “Familiars” is an album that makes a refreshing effort to explore the self. Silberman makes more frequent use of his lower register and even more devastatingly beautiful use of his stunning falsetto. His vocals are also perhaps the clearest they’ve ever been on an Antlers record. Past albums often buried his voice and lyrical comprehensibility, but “Familiars” lays it bare with only a touch of reverb. It’s a fitting change for an album that so delicately and abstractly deals with its themes.

Duality is the motif here, recurring throughout tracks such as “Intruders,” “Director,” and of course, “Doppelgänger.” These songs carry a sinister undercurrent. Silberman explores the darker sides of people as “ugly creatures,” monstrous or malicious twins that both lurk within and haunt from alongside a person. On “Director,” he asserts, “You will hate who you are ’til you overthrow who you’ve been.”

There is darkness on “Familiars,” but as Michael Lerner’s even, pensive drumming drives the songs forward, the heavy introspection actually becomes comforting.

Silberman even returns to that long-broken relationship on the aptly named “Revisited,” a nearly eight-minute epic whose pace most directly embodies that of the album itself. Each track is at least five minutes long, and the tempo is uniformly relaxed and ruminative throughout. The runtime lends these larger lyrical and instrumental conceits ample breath, showing that The Antlers are at last fully comfortable with its own canvas. The result is an album that is simultaneously a refreshing change in direction and the best summation of everything about The Antlers’ sound.

“Familiars” is both somber and soothing. Silberman takes the listener deep into the trenches with him as he comes to terms. And when he begins to see the light, most clearly on the album’s final third, a weight is very audibly lifted. The blissful “Parade” glows with a gleeful energy as a simple guitar riff becomes the sound of shackles finally loosened. Silberman’s voice lilts higher and higher until he sounds utterly triumphant. Darby Cicci’s electronic textures offer a hand to join the procession.

As the guitar sparks on album-closer, “Refuge,” give way to Cicci’s hopeful trumpeting, we can practically see the sun breaking over the horizon. When Silberman reveals, “You’re already home and you don’t even know it,” all traces of burden have left his voice.

On the opening track, “Palace,” Silberman’s answer to heaven was searching one’s own soul. The opening and closing tracks thus become bookends to the album’s larger theme of finding peace within. In life’s bleakest moments, Silberman recalls, we are both our own biggest obstacle and best chance for salvation.

“Familiars” is an album of progression, a palpable catharsis, and Silberman has carved an artful, moving path to come to terms with the demons that haunt him.

Nathan Frontiero can be reached at [email protected]