Looking Back At How The Antlers Defined An Era Of Indie On ‘Hospice’

03.25.19 4 weeks ago

Frenchkiss Records

The Antlers weren’t the last Brooklyn buzz band, but you’d be forgiven for thinking they were. The indie rockers’ breakthrough third album and first proper full-band effort seemed to come from out of nowhere, and for some it kind of did; a month or two after the album was self-released in early 2009, I was working as an associate staff writer for Spin‘s website, a time when music publications’ online and print employees possessed all the collaborative success of the Bubonic plague.

In between watching my editor spend an hour and a half editing news stories about Foo Fighters’ Top Chef appearances and listening to my manager leeringly wax about his predilection for underage teen-culture starlets, I took solace in digging through mail crates of unsolicited promos — effectively tasked with A&R’ing the website’s musical taste, after a series of softball-pitch predictions (“Hey guys, I think this new Grizzly Bear record’s gonna be a big deal!”) were ignored in favor of 24/7, click-gaming Twilight coverage.

Bearing the anthemic burn and murky, shapeshifting nature that marked late-2000s indie rock as a whole, Hospice jumped out immediately on first listen; as a 21-year-old getting his sea legs in the twin hydra of music and media, I didn’t think much more of the album until it was announced that The Antlers had signed to Frenchkiss, the NYC-based indie founded by bassist Syd Butler of metropolitan art-punks Les Savy Fav. (A month after being laid off from the company, I continued to freelance on and off for the magazine for a year, and my review of Hospice was my inaugural print appearance. Thanks, Charles Aaron — I owe you one.) Despite having heard the album already, my interest in revisiting it was immediately re-stoked by the signing, and with good reason.

At the end of the 2000s well into the mid-2010s, Frenchkiss had gained a reputation for signing indie and indie-adjacent acts that bore the mark of quality — solid, enjoyable songs, often indebted to other sounds floating around indie’s increasingly diffuse atmosphere. It would be unfair to refer to Frenchkiss as a farm-team label — for one, singer/songwriter and former Fiery Furnaces frontwoman Eleanor Friedberger still releases impeccable and deeply felt solo albums on the imprint to this day. But it’s not inaccurate to state that many of the bands who got their start on the label gained a level of stature that elevated them to a higher echelon of indie, from the major label pop bounce of Passion Pit and The Hold Steady’s beery classic-rock reveries to indie-pop aesthetes The Drums and the moody folk-rock of Local Natives. The Antlers would eventually ascend to similar ranks, and ten years after Hospice‘s release, just listening to the thing is explanation enough as to why.

A proggy, at-times imposing work that nonetheless possessed impactful melodic straightforwardness, Hospice took a few of 2000s-era indie rock’s building blocks — the all-in-it sweep of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Broken Social Scene’s six-stringed post-rock spin cycle, and the looming presence that Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum once held over indie rock at large — and constructed a tower of pure catharsis. A concept album about finding love in the cancer ward that masked the supposed autobiographical torment of its architect, frontman Peter Silberman chose to remain oblique around the album’s press cycle regarding the “emotionally abusive relationship” that inspired it; but the quixotic generosity of Hospice doesn’t require detailed knowledge of his pain — only that you’re willing to give yourself in to its startlingly raw and emotive sweep.

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