Inseven years together, Brooklyn’s The Antlers have created a quiet revolution inthought and sound with their harrowing and often haunted tales of loveunmoored, human frailty and emotional evisceration.
On Familiars,their fifth album, The Antlers — vocalist / guitarist Peter Silberman,multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci, and drummer Michael Lerner — have resumedthe journey they began with 2009’s Hospice and continued over the next two albums BurstApartand Undersea, which found thetrio picking their way through a labyrinth of fear, doubt, love and lossagainst a backdrop of layered textural songs that were as deeply atmospheric asthey were anthemic.
Morehopeful in mood than its predecessors, the new album emanates a palpablerelease of despair and an almost operatic verve on nine songs that took shapeover the past year and a half.
Familiars movesthe Antlers’ emotional and spiritual odyssey further, alongside a palette ofsounds that soar and retreat under a canopy of electronic trappings and thesteady arrhythmic heartbeat of Lerner’s unnerving drumming. A choir of funerealhorns function as a second voice across the songs.
“Iwrote the trumpet arrangements as a sort of emotional antagonist,” explainsCicci. “In some ways it acts as more of conscience to an otherwise omniscientnarrator. Other times, it’s about giving a voice and personality to the dark,unsympathetic nature of reality – as an obstacle to the narrator’s quest forenlightenment.”
Thisduality is a persistent force throughout the record, guiding an exploration ofthe divided self and giving rise to the idea of a Familiar — rather like aguardian angel, your shadow, or your consciousness.
“Ifthere was ever a time when you felt completely lost and you were able to appearto yourself, to give yourself advice and shed light on your situation, whatwould that be like?” asks Silberman.
Familiars notonly shows what that would be like, it demonstrates how that’s achieved overthe arc of nine songs.
“Iwanted to explore that conversation we’re constantly having with ourselvesthroughout our lives. So I began to write and sing as two sides of the sameperson, as estranged twins trying to find each other in a shared mind, andeventually traveling together through a maze of malleable memories.”
“Forawhile, I’ve been focused on what it means to be present, and how difficultthat can be, living in a world created by your past. The past can be acomfortingly painful place, and it’s easy to get stuck there. In that sense, Ithink of Familiars as a rescue mission.”
Ittook The Antlers a year and a half to transform that world into a symbolic andmusical language. Recorded by the band at their studio in Brooklyn, Familiars represents an evolution in the band’smusicianship and creative process.
“I’mnot sure we really were having any kind of synchronicity back when we startedthe record. We came together into that through the recording,” says Cicci.
“Webecame really obsessed with Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda,Charles Mingus’ The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady,and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew,” he adds.“In the context of starting a record, they represented an almost spiritualself-expression, fugue-like repetition of themes, and the liberation of usingpure discovery as a finished work.”
“Wewanted to connect to the humanity of music from the past,” adds Silberman. “Tocapture grace and the heart within those performances.”
Sothis time around The Antlers made a soul record in the truest sense of theword. Sure, they inundated themselves with Al Green, Nina Simone, and TheMemphis Boys, but really they were making music about that mysterious andineffable part of yourself. The metaphysics behind the physics: They found thatthey had made a record that was able to express the unseen.