EP Review: The Antlers – Undersea
(Published in The Quietus)
‘I seem different/More removed’ coos Peter Silberman on the second track of ‘Undersea’ – a line which sums up the oeuvre of the latest release from The Antlers succinctly. While ‘Hospice’ wasn’t so much a tug as it was a full-blown yank on the listener’s heart-strings, perhaps what is most noticeable about ‘Undersea’ is its sense of emotive distancing, of creative self-restraint.
Fittingly enough, a sense of submersion undertows the EP – the record is brackish and waterlogged; sound seems lazy, delayed even, mimicking the slow-mo panorama of underwater scenes. ‘Drift Dive’ is a sublime example of this – a gorgeous pas de deux between Peter Silberman and Sharon Van Etten, the track is bolstered by a languid, gently-spooling guitar line which cossets their soporific cooing perfectly. Progressing from the brittle falsetto/visceral howl Silbermann wildly oscillated between on ‘Hospice’, here his voice has matured, leavening into a half-articulate drawl, his words braiding and coalescing with the guitar lines to become barely distinguishable from the instruments themselves.
It isn’t all woozy and melismatic – ‘Endless Ladder’ is very nearly funky, if not really bloody catchy, featuring twinkling piano and a sinuous, two-stepping guitar coda. While ‘Hospice’ was renown for its prolix, quasi-novelistic lyrics, ‘Undersea’ finds Silberman becoming increasingly lyrically minimalist, his songs often structured over refrains and phrases, rather than a convolute narrative arc. Take ‘Crest’, which finds Silberman howling ‘Closer to truth, but much, much further’ over eddying guitar arpeggios and wilting horns. It’s a nonsensical statement, almost paradoxical, but Silberman clearly didn’t chose the refrain for semantics – it’s a purely musical phrase, chosen for the way Peter’s croon slips gracefully over the ‘closer’, before breaking in sharp staccato on ‘much, much further’. On ‘Undersea’, Peter’s voice is less of a communicative tool, and more of an extension of the song – it serves only to echo the guitar lines, to add accent to the horns, to ride roughshod over the melody, another vivid stitch in an intricate musical tapestry.
If there’s one boon to be said for ‘Undersea’, it’s the sense of progression it offers. The Antlers are a very different band to the one who waxed poetic on skeletal girls with ‘scissor pain and phantom limbs’ on ‘Hospice’ – both ‘Burst Apart’ and ‘Undersea’ have marked a significant shift from the panoramic solipsism of ‘Hospice’ to a vaguer, more prosaic, more typically indie rock sound. But while the aquatic theme pervading ‘Undersea’ may make for some interesting sonic experiments, it also acts as a distancing mechanism. Perhaps Silberman’s detachment is a mere lack of enthusiasm masquerading under a stylistic decision? For all its musical accomplishment, much of ‘Undersea’ drifts past in a pretty, twinkly daze, leaving little impression in its wake.
Still, it’s insincere to attempt to milk the same sense of tragedy twice. ‘Hospice’ was a masterpiece, but it was decidedly singular in its genius – Peter Silberman & Co have been wise in deciding not to exhume Sylvia’s ghost. Let’s hope that the suspension offered on ‘Undersea’ is just a postponement while Silberman taps into some new, real emotion.