Writing an album can, for most musicians, be a daunting task at the best of times. If you will then, stop and think for a moment about the gargantuan task facing The Antlers. For those who missed all the furore in 2009, Hospice was for many the revelation come the end of year lists. An album as thematically bleak as it was sonically rich, it possessed the ability to captivate its listener as well as cause them heartbreak and despair.
On the back of such near-unanimous praise from public and media alike (and its associated pressures), it would’ve been easy for the band to fluff the follow-up something chronic, but it’s clear from the outset that thankfully this isn’t the case. It’s also abundantly clear that Burst Apart is no rehash of Hospice. While the former was an instantly arresting record, its tragedy and heartbreak making itself known from the outset, Burst Apart is sonically a far more subtle record that rewards repeated listens and a patient listener.
Nowhere is this subtle sound more evident than on stately and chiming opening track I Don’t Want Love which gently eases the listener into the generally more subdued and melodic tones evident through the album’s 10 tracks. The rhythmic French Exit meanwhile takes on an atmospheric direction resulting in a track that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Summer Camp release, while the brooding and muscular Parentheses demonstrates a side to The Antlers which has remained well hidden over the course of Hospice. This opening trio not only demonstrate the new musical direction prevalent throughout the record, but also the production, which feels bigger and affords the songs more space to manoeuvre.
Elsewhere, No Widows and Roll Together return The Antlers (to an extent) to what made Hospice such a rewarding listen two years ago. Music that’s hypnotic and easy to get lost in while accessible and atmospheric. It’s an idea that’s taken to a whole new level as the album enters its mesmerising final third, firstly via Hounds with its hazy, dreamlike subtle brass and then via the minimal yet winsome Corsicana. It makes for truly mesmerising listening.
In terms of lyrical themes, Burst Apart in many ways acts as a companion piece to Hospice. Some songs on the record act as a flipside to the relationship-as-a-terminal-illness thematics of Hospice, with I Don’t Want Love and Parentheses both based around the theme of hollow, casual sex. Other songs on the album will appeal to those who appreciated the painful ideas expressed by its predecessor; paranoia of freak accidents (No Widows), trust and paranoia in love (Hounds), disorientation (Tiptoe), and a pre-emptive apology for a relationship petering out (Corsicana). Rainbows and bunny rabbits it certainly isn’t.
What The Antlers have done is subtly re-imagine themselves on Burst Apart. It contains enough new elements to maintain listener interest, while incorporating some of what made Hospice so arresting. It’s an album that, while accessible and instantly engaging, rewards patience and begs for repeated listens, each time opening itself more and more to the listener. It compares favourably to its lauded predecessor, and as such will surely be in most end of year lists come December. As an exercise in maintaining artistic form, it’s an indisputable success.