(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, January 11, 2010

CD review - The Antlers, Hospice (2009)

Imagine a sound, actually just the echo of a sound. It decays a little into the background of other echoed sounds, but instead of fading away, it grows into an ethereal baseline of sound. Little bits of complexity sparkle, but it's hard to isolate any piece of that.

This is the soundtrack that the Antlers have created to support their concept album, Hospice. It's a painful personal-feeling story of a hospice worker caring for and falling in love with a terminal woman. It's a heavy subject, that deals with the stages of grief and feelings of self-recrimination. The music is detached and somewhat melancholy, befitting the theme. But there are other elements and moods that make it compelling and more than a simple downer.

Sylvia starts with a flangy, detuned synthesizer and heartbeat. The verses are low key with hard to discern lyrics. Then the chorus hits with a big wall of sound, filled with layer after layer, like the old Phil Spector sound. It's a little overwrought, but it hits hard.

This is followed by Atrophy, which contrasts sharply by being bleaker and more detached. The vocals quaver with frustration over the unfairness of trying to help and failing. There's a nice piano that is eventually buried under the wave of low level noise that builds like the pain of a migraine. This refines into a machinelike sound before resolving and reprising the last verse.
Someone, oh anyone, tell me how to stop this
She's screaming, expiring, and I'm her only witness.
This hits home as the theme of Hospice as a whole.

Two is my favorite track. The music is almost joyful, yet darkly weary, with the singer starting to come to grips with the woman's impending death. The lyrics here have a wonderful flow:
There's two people living in one small room
From your two half families tearing at you
Two ways to tell the story, no one worries
Two silver rings on our fingers in a hurry
Two people talking inside your brain
Two people believing that I'm the one to blame
Two different voices coming out of your mouth
While I'm too cold to care and too sick to shout

Eventually, the woman dies, and the singer has to deal with that, with the sense of being haunted by her and the knowledge that his live is going on. A powerful album.

Pour a glass of Pinot Grigio while you listen and let the wave of echoes rise over you.

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