I was not one of the throngs who flocked to The Antlers and praised their critical breakthrough Hospice when it was released in 2009.
Despite my close attention to what’s going on in the independent music scene, my first knowledge of Peter Silberman & Co. came when I heard a song on the local college radio that caught my attention enough that I googled the refrain. That song was “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out,” a strangely bouncy track about a broken relationship that echoes some of the darker tracks on old Death Cab For Cutie albums, albeit with manic guitar effects and paranoid synthesizers.
Needless to say, I liked it, and when NPR streamed it in full on their website, I tasted and saw that Burst Apart was a wonderful record.
Structurally, the album is divided into two halves, which a physical vinyl release aids. The first half is more ambient and rhythmic–heavily delayed tremolo guitar and shimmering keyboards* create a spacious atmosphere for bouncing bass lines and hip-hop shuffled drum kits to play. The songs are less straightforward as well, like in “Rolled Together” where the instruments build around the repeated lyric “Rolled together with a burning paper heart/Rolled together we’re about to burst apart,” until the vocals give up all ambition of lyrical expression and start vocalizing long single vowels in Silberman’s impossibly high falsetto (I would like to see Peter Silberman and Jonsi from Sigur Ros have a falsetto contest).
The second half, ushered in by “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out,” transitions into more straightforward song structures. There are verses, choruses, and fewer instrumental passages. Also, the rhythm section that made a house party out of the first half is largely absent. Rather, the songs on side 2 (with the exception of “Every Night”) sound much more like they were written alone on an acoustic guitar and then transformed into their current forms during the recording, instead of the songs-out-of-jams that covered side 1. The closing track, “Putting The Dog To Sleep,” is the most traditional, with the drum set returning to channel a 50s rock waltz, which when paired with the atmospheric shimmer of the electric guitar and keyboards creates the least immediately palatable song on the record, but it’s not hard to appreciate.
Overall, Burst Apart, like a good film, is a record that exists in its own world; a world filled with glistening textures, fun rhythms, and one guy’s neurosis. It may not be incredibly ambitious as its much-hailed predecessor—rather it feels much more like a group of musicians that love what they do making music they enjoy making—but it is still a masterpiece in its own right, and one of the most glaring omissions from several 2011 end of the year lists (I’m looking at you, Pitchfork. Did you forget the Best New Music tag you gave it in May?). It’s a record I enjoy every. single. time I put it on, and that happens pretty often.
*it was during the Antlers’ Black Cab Session that I decided to buy a synthesizer in the first place.