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The Antlers Push Boundaries with ‘Palace’

| Tuesday, April 1, 2014

WEB_Banner_AntlersEmily Hoffmann | The Observer

In music criticism, one common complaint is “it all sounds the same.” A band’s new record may boast a plethora of great songs, but if the songs don’t present a new style or direction for the band, the album may get trashed anyway. The “sophomore slump” is often a product of this. When a band crafts an exciting, innovative first record and follows it up with one of similar sound and quality, the latter lacks the key freshness and impact of the first. Recent examples of such include Cults’ “Static” and Sleigh Bells’ “Born to Die.”

Some artists are spared this criticism due to the strength of their existing sound. Records like “Bloom” by Beach House, “Trouble Will Find Me” by The National and “Atlas” by Real Estate didn’t bring anything new to the table, but the unexaggerated beauty of the bands’ discographies have earned them a lasting respect from critics.

This dichotomy of good-same vs. bad-same is especially interesting when it comes to analyzing singles. Most singles are generally high quality, chosen by the label to advertise for the record as a whole. While singles may not be indicative of the record as a whole, they often showcase the general sound and even form of a new album. So when a new single is dropped that’s in the same vein as a band’s older material, a number of questions pop up. Is the single of an impressive quality? Will it be indicative of the album as a whole? And perhaps most importantly, if it is indicative of the whole, is that a good or a bad thing?

Antlers’ latest offering, the single “Palace,” presents this very issue. The Antlers are an atmospheric alt band whose compositions are part gorgeous soundscape, part indie-rock anthem. Their dark, intensely emotional concept album “Hospice” garnered them a devoted following; their following record “Burst Apart” was nearly as well received as a set of brilliantly constructed vignettes. Since then, The Antlers have released the “Undersea EP,” a set of four lovely, sprawling ambient rock tracks.

“Palace” sounds like it could have been snatched out of either “Burst Apart” or “Undersea.” It is yet another unabashedly beautiful atmospheric rock track, carried by smooth horns, an elegant piano and lead singer Peter Silberman’s silky falsetto. However, the track is taken from The Antlers’ new record “Familiars” to be released this June. The next question is an obvious: is the single’s lack of a new direction for the band a reason to condemn the new record?

The answer, in this case, is no. Though the song echoes much of The Antlers’ recent work, it is also an expansion. “Hospice” created atmospheres out of minimalistic elements out of a few synthesizers and guitars. “Burst Apart” found The Antlers filling the space by expanding instrumentation to ensemble-like groups (see the jazzy numbers “Tiptoe” and “Putting the Dog to Sleep” for a few good examples). “Undersea” expanded the breadth of The Antlers’ atmospheric sound even more by deepening synth pads and sound effects. “Palace” finds The Antlers going even farther, pushing the sonic boundaries by adding even more to the picture — three or four melodies simultaneous while layer upon layer of atmosphere is stretched behind. If “Palace” is any indication, “Familiars” will be to The Antlers as “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” was to M83 — the maximalist opus of an already-renowned band.

“Familiars” is out July 17.

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