Since Hospice emerged as a narrative record of tremendous emotional force in 2009, The Antlers have consistently defined themselves through their weightiness. There is no hip posturing, no casual cleverness, and very little pop sensibility to the music they spin forth from what Isaac Brock might call “the dark center of the universe.” Although Burst Apart, The Antlers’ more contained follow-up to Hospice, found the band exploring tight song structures and stepping away from the glorious concept album fullness of their previous release, Familiars, the act’s fifth record, returns to the musical looseness of Hospice while applying a vague conceptual framework.
Familiars lacks the immediate thrust and devastating intimacy of Hospice’s tales of cancer, regret, and trauma. It also lacks Burst Apart‘s comparative accessibility. And yet Familiars is as gorgeous a flutter of genuine feeling as one can wish for from Brooklyn’s most cathartic conveyors of human desperation.
Frontman Peter Silberman’s vocals remain extraordinary and exquisite, his falsetto creeping over the keyboards or dipping into a jazzy duskiness with expert control. “Palace” opens Familiars with a loving embrace of horns and introduces the listener to the overall tone of an always pretty album. Pursuing doubles and doppelgängers through rooms known and unknown, within and behind mirrors, Silberman somehow makes the search for self as beautiful as it is terrifying.
On “Refuge,” he asks, “When you lift me out of me will I know when I’ve changed? / And when you bring me back to me, will you bring me back to me, un-estranged?” Searching for heaven in fragile spaces within, all the while losing a spiritual sense of home, Silberman may find himself becoming a stranger in a strange land, but what a wondrous land it is. From the confident winding of “Intruders” to the tender nostalgia of “Parade,” Familiars is a mesmerizing addition to an already stunning body of work.