It’s now been half a decade since the release of “Hospice,” the unabashedly dark singular statement from The Antlers’ frontman Peter Silberman. It found a middle ground between shoegaze indebted, syrupy slow jams and harrowing poetry already strong enough without any backing music. While it’s aged well, The Antlers themselves crafted a backbone so strong with that LP, that two albums later, they’ve tweaked their formula just enough to remain relevant and oddly difficult to pinpoint. This year’s Familiars finds the trio at their lightest, sounding majestic, menacing, and hopeful throughout its nine track run.
Opener and lead single “Palace” sets the record on the right track with its nearly aquatic atmosphere, picking up where 2012’s Undersea EP left off. Possibly their most accessible song to date, and surely their most confident, “Palace” tightly marries a horn line with bubbly piano and a typically strong vocal performance from Silberman. It easily sums up the majestic portion of the album, only matched by the angry “Hotel.”
Elsewhere, “Director” and “Revisited” admirably refuse to break from their constant groove, settling for mood over progression for a curiously more powerful effect. However, the latter of the two and “Doppelganger” test the waters too much and fail to maintain attention in their longer running times. On the other side of the spectrum, “Intruders” finds the perfect balance of intensity and restraint, and at a more appropriate 5 minutes, takes the spotlight for centerpiece of the album. Over a late night jazzy groove, Silberman interrogates a mischievous double, concluding with “I beg for answers to all my questions like ‘What happened?’ / ‘Why’d you let me let you in when I was younger?’ / ‘And why’d I need to?’”. The despair and anxiety are still within the boundaries of The Antler’s music, but the conversations are less one-sided and more speculative. If Hospice was the tunnel with no light at the end, Familiars is an alarmingly illuminated room.
There’s a beauty to the cohesiveness of Familiars, an album that never overstays its welcome. It marks the shortest number of tracks of their albums, yet there’s considerably more to delve into than on an average nine-song LP. While lesser bands risk either overblowing or understating drama within music, The Antlers have now successfully crafted their own mixture that nearly no one else operates within.