The Antlers - Hospice - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Antlers - Hospice

by Tim Sentz Rating:10 Release Date:2019-03-08
The Antlers - Hospice
The Antlers - Hospice

The story Hospice tells is a familiar one. The Brooklyn trio’s third album came out in the summer of 2009, far from the scene that we live in now, it is a concept album about pain and suffering. The typical thing you’d expect from the title. But over the last ten years, Hospice has aged to perfection. It’s the greatest release by The Antlers, a band that has a modest discography but has yet to match the visceral gut punch that Hospice delivers.

The Antlers had unspectacular beginnings, starting as a solo project of front-man and primary songwriter Peter Silberman but then evolving into the trio by adding Darby Cicci and Michael Lerner for Hospice. Silberman’s eerie falsetto pushes the record into a more tender direction, despite the themes present. Over the years since its release, Silberman has kept tight-lipped on what Hospice actually relates to in his life, but there’s speculation that the album’s narrative is autobiographical. Each song acts as a piece to the story of a hospice worker caring for a female patient – a metaphor for an abusive relationship.

Hospice’s individual contributions, from the opening instrumental Prologue, appear steeped in a semi-post-rock layer, despite the band being generically labeled as indie rock. “Kettering” acts as the first full hint at what’s to come and it’s the band’s most popular song: “I wish that I’d known in that minute we first met, the unpayable debt that I owed you,” sums up the direction of Hospice, foreshadowing right from the start that this won’t be an easy to digest story. Silberman doesn’t reserve anything on Hospice, there’s no holding back, and it’s an emotionally resonating piece of work, and it’s because of this raw honesty that fans hold this record so revered a decade later.

There’re only about three songs on Hospice that could be taken as a “single.” “Sylvia” has that epic feel to it, slowly building over the first minute before an explosive chorus. But its content isn’t anything you’d want your children singing along to in the car on the way to summer camp. “Sylvia, get your head out of the oven, go back to screaming, and cursing, remind me again how everyone betrayed you.” Granted, it’s a little bit more interesting than hearing them sing something by Eminem, but the direness of songs like “Sylvia” might do some damage to the listener if they aren’t prepared.

The pacing of Hospice is even meticulous, to go from “Sylvia” into “Atrophy,” a by and large much more slowed down and methodical piece, one that stretches to almost eight minutes. Silberman toys with the setup at an almost stream-of-consciousness frivolity, letting the music take him where he doesn’t want to go, but following it to the edge where it bursts into a reverb-laden bridge. There’s a reason why Hospice is adored – songs like “Atrophy” are unpredictable in their direction, as is the entire record.

“Bear” might be the most upbeat of the record’s supposed “singles.” With its bells and keys, shuffling in and out of traditional song structures and delicately humming the chorus “We’re too old, we’re not old at all.” “Bear” might be the popular choice amongst casual fans, but the heart of Hospice to me is unquestionable “Two.” I could write an entire review of just “Two” and its powerful dichotomy. A jangle-pop guitar soundtracks the centerpiece’s most heartfelt instance. “Two” contains the tipping point for the depression and regret of the main character. The constant failures, the constant decay of the relationship front and center, “Two” is, to me, Silberman’s true masterpiece as he goes through all of the motions of a doomed relationship in six minutes. “It’s a deceiving track, the elements of “Two” are light-hearted on the surface, but content-wise it’s brutal. “Two people talking inside your brain, two people believing I’m the one to blame.” It’s powerful because you can feel yourself in Silberman’s shoes. Standing there with your significant other facing death at the door, and you’re powerless. He does so with such rawness that you can’t help but relate. The additional female vocals are contributed by Sharon Van Etten, who you can barely recognize, but that tiny bit of additional feeling makes “Two” feel so warm and frigid at the same time.

Hospice doesn’t try to rectify the story either. Its one of the few “rock” records to have more in common with Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak than Arcade Fire’s Funeral. There’s no “hey we all made it out safe and sound,” it’s a depressing story, and in the end as “Epilogue” shares, the patient has passed, but Silberman can’t let go. She haunts him still, every night, just when he’s about to fall asleep. He’s lost his job, and now that pain has travelled to him. It’s heartbreakingly true, such is the case with dysfunctional and abusive relationships. If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, it may be hard to relate, but as Silberman and Lerner take the album on a reunion tour this spring, there will be nary a dry eye to be found because ten years on Hospice still resonates with the damaged.

Hospice is being reissued to mark its 10th anniversary, newly pressed on double white vinyl, with deluxe artwork and packaging courtesy of the album’s original artist, Zan Goodman.

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