Hospice, The Antlers’ 2009 third album, was traumatising, an unblinking narrative of despair and loss that, like a crime scene, was as captivating as it was liable to bring on full-blown emotional collapse.
Mercifully, for their follow-up the Brooklyn three-piece have opted for something a little less in need of coming packaged with a flyer for The Samaritans, despite what the title might imply. Burst Apart is immediately more direct than its predecessor, its arrangements more varied and intricate, the band moving to a controlled shout rather than a plaintive cry. Whilst Hospice lived in the spaces between its songs, in the drones and the echoes and the paling, tortured feedback, Burst Apart seems happy to play extrovert, the choruses more anthemic and the guitars more overt. Mid-album highpoint ‘Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out’ is disarmingly straight-edged, an unashamed rock song replete with swells of melody and something eerily close to a guitar solo, The Antlers’ demonstrating a confidence and assertion more befitting of a festival main stage than the dank claustrophobia of their more native venues.
That’s not to say they’ve become Coldplay. From the hypnotic drum patterns of ‘Parentheses’ to the cinematic melancholy of ‘No Widows’ and the sombre brass of ‘Tiptoe’, there’s enough texture and experiment to ensure that this is never an easy, background listen, a mere soundtrack to whatever mundane activity we’re undertaking: this requires attention. And in an album that frequently scrapes at the upper waveforms it’s the penultimate whisper of ‘Corsicana’ that most commands it, an amniotic cocoon of a track, warm and fragile and really quite overwhelming.
The Antlers were always more suited to headphones, to darkened rooms and flickering candlelight and thrashing, rain-wracked catharsis. But with Burst Apart they’ve moved past the grief, making an album that’s far more than just a concept. If Hospice felt at times like a Peter Silberman confessional, a therapy session with instruments, then here we get to see what the full band are capable of. And it’s a very impressive spectacle.