The Antlers – Familiars
by David McDevitt (International Affairs/Economics), published August 25th 2014
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
The career of The Antlers has been defined by their emotional authenticity. From the feeling of awe while stargazing evoked from In The Attic Of The Universe, or the sexual frustration and sheer loneliness of Burst Apart, singer Peter Silberman’s power lies in his ability to communicate his feelings potently to an audience. That quality has not diminished over their career, and similar to his band’s previous four LPs, on Familiars listeners get a glimpse into Silberman’s psyche as he adjusts to intimacy. What’s more, his inner struggle comes through as strong and as authentic as any of the previous looks into his mind.
The process of struggling with amity is not a dramatic one: it is a slow process of edging yourself into a relationship until that feeling of security emerges. Given this mood, Familiars marks Silberman’s the first time in the Antlers where he is not performing as a poet crying into a microphone. The Brooklyn trio’s new record rationally lacks the same heart-wrenching punch of their past works, which is a shift matched by the album’s instrumentation. Familiars peels back the layers of organs and horns from previous Antlers songs to a more minimalistic setup, defined by syncopated rhythms and a smoother horn section closer to a blues tune than an opera. Silberman also moves away from his falsetto to a more mid-range, less grieving voice, as befits to the message.
Familiars’ lack of theatricality does equate to a lack of moving moments, however. The opening statement of the album, “Palace,” for example, demonstrates that these moments can exist, building itself to a satisfying climax with climbing horns and progressing rhythms, setting the tone for the rest of the album to be told by a quieter voice. Furthermore, Silberman is no longer acting alone on this album. The softer approach to his vocals suggests a band comfortable with allowing the powerful moments to be carried by the horns and melody, showing off the groups expert levels of arrangement in the codas to “Director” and “Parade”.
There is a misconception that an artist needs to be in turmoil to create great work. Familiars is not the magnum opus of Silberman’s career (that honor still belongs to 2009’s Hospice) but it proves that a similar beauty can be derived from his zen-like state of mind. This is the Antlers’ first album which we see Silberman at peace at the conclusion as well. “You’re already home and you don’t even know it”, sings Silberman in the closing track “Refugee,” a stark contrast to the discomfort and grief of “Wake” and “Putting the Dog to Sleep,” the closing tracks on both Hospice and Burst Apart. For the first time we get an ending that concludes with a comfortable satisfying smile.