When The Antlers frontman Peter Silberman self-released Hospice in March 2009, he couldn’t possibly have been prepared for the reception it received. A haunting, introspective record weaving lyrical references to Sylvia Plath in a album-long terminal-illness-ward-as-failed-relationship metaphor, Hospice didn’t seem like the kind of music destined for a large audience. But enthusiastic reviews trickled and then poured in. Frenchkiss Records picked it up for a re-release, pressing after pressing sold out, and Hospice quickly found itself topping best-of-2009 lists. Understandably, follow-up effort Burst Apart has been more than a little hyped. But The Antlers have wisely avoided an attempt to top the morbid anguish of their debut: ‘We’re not particularly sad people,’ Silberman told an interviewer recently. Instead, the trio’s spacious sound has been put to use exploring a much wider range of emotion. Opener ‘I Don’t Want Love’, setting the tone for the entire record, is fervently earnest, a pointedly deliberate break from the sombre constraints of Hospice.
Dropping the personal, bedroom-pop feel of their debut, Burst Apart feels above all like a collaborative work, the trio having clearly developed an aesthetic of their own after extensive touring. Burst Apart is a fitting title, for theirs is a cavernous, enveloping sound, seeming to leak from the very confines of the recording itself. The sense of space is reminiscent of The Cure’s Disintegration, but sonic influences range from second-wave post-rock to late Radiohead. The influences of the latter are most strikingly apparent in ‘French Exit’ and ‘Parentheses’, contrasting relentless drum loops with sweeping falsetto vocals and cascading guitars. The distorted riffs of album single ‘Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out’ make it a standout, but you couldn’t point to a weak track on the record. The stylistic shift of ‘Corsicana’, a throwback to their earlier sound, is a slight disruption in the otherwise cohesive flow of the record, but it is certainly welcome for fans not quite sated by Hospice. The ‘sophomore slump’ is a standard trope for music critics, but The Antlers can rest assured it won’t be applied to the delightful Burst Apart.