If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s now crystal clear that The Antlers don’t do happy-clappy. Their last album, 2011’s brilliant Burst Apart, with track names such as ‘Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out’ and ‘Putting The Dog To Sleep’, was only considered an optimistic album in light of its predecessor Hospice, a concept album double-whammy of dying cancer patients and failing relationships. New album Familiars, a record of “estranged twins trying to find each other in a shared mind”, is therefore the cheeriest of the bunch, but that’s not saying much.
As befits the album’s concept, which sees singer Peter Silberman singing as two sides of the same character, Familiars is a more contemplative record than Burst Apart. Where that album had its fair share of quiet, calming tracks, it also presented a wide array textures and tempos. Familiars is more self-contained. Sonically, it deals in stately horn arrangements, gently slinking basslines and Silberman’s feather-light falsetto, removing some of the rockier guitar lines from previous records.
That said, this is still a bewitching album, full of pretty sounds and gorgeous melodies and laced with darkness and desperation. After the powerful sweep of opener ‘Palace’ comes the brooding Doppelganger, which stretches for over seven minutes. “If you’re quiet, you can hear the monster breathing” sings Silberman in a reedy almost-whisper. With the smooth jazz-infused trumpet arrangements it sounds like a lament from a film noir – smoky, thick and menacing.
Familiars is a truly beautiful record – often hypnotically so – full of shimmering compositions that creep in like the tide and swell into calm, lapping waves. This isn’t a casual listen to stick on for your commute – it’s a record to lie and soak in, one for late nights and early mornings. It’ll take weeks before you’ll be able to hum any of the tunes on here, but it almost makes a point of being in no rush to jump out at you.
The delicate, bruised soul sway of ‘Parade’ is the most immediate thing on here, a warm, swooning delight that you’ll be itching to re-play come some of the more sparse points of the album. Similarly enchanting is ‘Hotel’ with its tight, snapping drums and grooving basslines. When Silberman’s usual falsetto becomes a full-voiced wail (“When I check out, it won’t matter how my name’s spelled” – no prizes for guessing that this may not just be about a hotel) it sets the hairs on the back of your neck on end.
Familiars won’t be for everyone, and it’s not as instantly gratifying a record as Burst Apart, but for those who give it the time and patience this is a definite album of the year contender.
Reviewer: Ben Travis