posted on October 31, 2009 19:00
Cluas Snapshot: The Antlers’ second album is different. It’s a concept. The theme is tragic and complicated. It’s also phenomenally engaging musically and while one of the most difficult it’s also one of the interesting albums you’re likely to hear this year.
The Cluas Verdict? 8/10
Full Review: Hospice tells the story from Prologue to Epilogue of a couple’s journey through terminal illness, struggle, regret and grief amongst other things. It’s heavy. It’s very heavy in fact. The record opens with the grey overtone “Prologue” and even from this early stage, it’s clear the album could serve as a soundtrack for a movie. In fact a movie could be written using the story of the album. It slides gently into “Kettering”. The song describes one partner finding the other filled with tubes in a cancer ward. The “morphine alarms” sing and keep her sleeping. It narrates the anger felt by the patient towards the carer. It ends with one partner finding out the illness is terminal.
“Sylvia” begins in the same vein and then suddenly busts into life. Lyrically it’s virtually impossible to understand what’s been sung. The vocals are extremely low and this is my biggest criticism of the album. Musically it’s flawless but lyrically it’s impossible to engage with at times. I had to research the lyrics to find out what’s going on. Apparently it’s about the poet Sylvia Plath (the writer and poet who committed suicide by sticking her head in an oven and turning on the gas). This is described as detailed as this in the song. Musically it’s up and down, aggressive percussion and big horns, guitars and a charging rhythm. It’s actually a really catchy melody.
“Atrophy” is long, really long. 7 minutes 42 seconds long. It’s a slow mover. Again virtually impossible to hear what is being said. And for a concept album that is supposed to tell a story, it’s bloody annoying I can tell you. The listener wants to know what’s going on and musically it’s conveying the themes but the lyrics are inaudible at times. Again through research I discovered a beautiful lyric that summarises the song well: “I’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer”.
“Bear” is the first single off the album, and it’s incredible. It describes the couple in question going through the decision making process on whether they are capable of looking after a new baby.
“There’s a bear inside your stomach, a cub’s being kicking from within.
He’s loud without the vocal cords; we’ll put an end to him.
We’ll make all the right appointments; no one ever has to know,
And then tomorrow I’ll turn twenty one, we can script another show”.
The song goes on detailing the reality of a conflict between the couple regarding their maturity at handling the responsibility a baby brings. OK, so Silberman clearly doesn’t do things by halves. Thankfully the lyrics in this tune are audible, and mercifully so. It’s a fine song. “Thirteen” passes without incident.
“Two” however doesn’t. It’s a musical masterpiece. The acoustic intro draws the listener in, and the high low vocals of the verses merge with the drums as they kick in, fantastic. It’s the moment the doctor tells him that there is no hope for his partner and that “Enough is enough”. The song then compares how she had an eating disorder when she was younger and nobody noticed and excuses were made for it, her Dad was “an asshole”. It then goes on to describe their lives together, constant fighting in their room/home and marriage.
“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 I’m the one to blame,
two different voices coming out of your mouth, while I’m too to care and too sick to shout”
“Shiva” comes right after death. “Suddenly every machine stopped at once, and the monitors bleeped one last time. Hundreds of thousands of hospital beds, all of them empty but mine”. It continues musically in the same vein, acoustic guitar and stirring vocals. It’s nearing the end of the road. “Wake” is the end. It’s the celebration or marking of her passing. Letting people in to remember and say goodbye.
It’s a very heavy record, and very thoughtful. At times it can be frustrating. It isn’t made easy for the listener, but the challenge is worthwhile. It’s one of the finest albums this reviewer has heard this year.