Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Feature! Album of the Week

And so I bring to you a new blog feature, the Album of the Week. This is my chance to gush about the goodness of a particular new release… or a reasonably new one.

This week I want to shed my high-beams on the Antlers, a melancholy band from Brooklyn fronted by guitarist Peter Silberman. In 2006, Silberman moved to New York, isolated himself from family and friends, and began writing sad songs in his apartment. Soon after, Silberman released In the Attic of the Universe under the Antlers moniker. Largely considered a concept album, In the Attic... drew critical praise and highlighted Silberman's budding potential. He eventually teamed up with drummer Michael Lerner and banjo/trumpet player Darby Cicci. Their latest release, Hospice, came out in March and was rated one of the best new albums of 2009 by NPR. In case you hadn't guessed, it's no lark in the park. The album, which took two years to write, tells the story of a hospice nurse watching a young girl die of cancer. The girl's name just happens to be Sylvia, a name associated with suicide and heads in ovens and such. There are obvious references to tragic Sylvias on the album—an entire song named "Sylvia," for one thing, as well as references to Leonard Michaels' tragic novel Sylvia, in which the author's wife commits suicide. You can also see Silberman's creepy doctored version of a Sylvia Plath self-portrait on the band’s official website.

Sylvia, get your head out of the oven.
Go back to screaming, and cursing,
Remind me again how everyone betrayed you.
Sylvia, get your head out of the covers.
Let me take your temperature,
You can throw the thermometer right back at me,
If that's what you want to do, okay?

Sylvia, can't you see what you are doing?
Can't you see I'm scared to speak,
And I hate my voice 'cause it only makes you angry.
Sylvia, I only talk when you are sleeping.
That's when I tell you everything.
And I imagine that somehow you're going to hear me...
 --Lyrics from "Sylvia"

Imagine if Bon Iver crossed antlers with elusive folk band Woods. It would sound something like this: a falsetto voice attacking a swirling melody. The effect is hypnotic.  In "Two," there are "no other witnesses, just us two," "two people living in one small room," "two half-families tearing at you," "two ways to tell the story," "two silver rings on our fingers," two, two, two... Repetition underscores the monotony of endless days of slow decline (and "hundreds of thousands of hospital beds").

As the Antlers put it best, "this all bears repeating..."

At this time of year, as the leaves begin falling from the trees, I find myself craving a delicious dirge for the dying season. These songs are guaranteed to rain on your parade. If you’re anything like me, you’ll wrap yourself in a comfortable sweater of drear and get cozy. After all, there’s nothing a good cup of wallow can't fix. "Kettering" is as delicate as rain drops tracking down a windowpane, while "Bear" suggests a slight ray of sunshine all too soon covered by clouds.

This is music for shoegazers who like a good story: these songs don’t just drift, they tell a tale. The tale itself may be tragic, but the resulting album will convince you that the potential for beauty exists in the bleakest of places.

Let the Antlers herd you to a haunted clearing inside.

Incidentally, by checking out Silberman's blog, I learned an interesting fact: you can build a theremin from a French press!

If you’ve always dreamed of constructing your own theremin (and, really, who hasn’t?), Silberman alludes tantalizingly to the possibility of building one from a common kitchen accoutrement. Unfortunately, the blog does not provide a how-to.

I should also mention that the Antlers are not to be confused with local sports fans the Antlers, formed at the University of Missouri in 1976 to heckle opposing basketball teams. (USA Today even named them one of the top five fan groups in the nation.) Our local Antlers do not appear in the liner notes of "Hospice."

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