In 2009, Antlers released Hospice, their show stopping and heavily metaphorical album about a man, a woman he cared about, and her imminent death in a hospital. Needless to say, it’s an impossible album to follow-up. How can you possibly try to recreate the fervor, the despair, and the blind ambition that leads you to doing a masterful song cycle about dying that is actually about your relationship breaking up? You can’t. Instead, you make a non-thematically tied album that replicates the sonics of your breakthrough, without having to worry about where songs fit in the overall story. You release Burst Apart, as Antlers have done, their excellent fourth album, and the one that shows that Antlers aren’t just a concept album flash in the pan.
Once Hospice really took off, Antlers hit the road hard, cycling through the U.S. on headline tours, opening for the National, and tours and tours in between. These aren’t songs that were created in the studio; these are road-tested leviathans honed for maximum impact. Instead of impossible to replicate sheets of noise, we get nuanced use of keys (“French Exit”), leveling bass (“Parentheses”), and the kind of songs that lend themselves perfectly to sweaty encores (“Putting the Dog to Sleep”). This isn’t the band that assembled Hospice in the studio. Antlers are more than just a band of austere New York shoegazers now: They are ready for festival crowds.
Throughout the course of Burst Apart, it becomes clear frontman and songwriter Peter Silberman is more confident in his songwriting, as he’s less willing to bury his gems in between the instrumentals that stretched Hospice’s running time. Before the howling desolation of “No Widows,” there are the funky, mellow riffs of “French Exit,” the post-rock sounding “I Don’t Want Love,” and the trip-hop of “Parentheses.” Before the closing “Putting the Dog to Sleep,” there are the floating “Hounds,” and the interstellar “Corsicana.” And in between is the Freudian and soaring “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out,” the album’s centerpiece. Silberman is going for it here, in a way Hospice never really let on. Thanks to his varied songwriting, there’s nary a weak link in Burst Apart. It might not benefit from the easy hooks of a concept album, but if you stick around till the end, it is every bit as rewarding as Hospice.