The Antlers’ frontman Peter Silberman recently compared listening to his old music, namely 2009’s Hospice, to the jarring experience of “looking at an old picture of yourself.” In the five years since that album’s release, Silberman, along with multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner, has managed to successfully follow it up with 2011’s Burst Apart and 2012’s aquatic EP Undersea. Now, he admits he can barely recognize the Silberman of just a few years ago.
Familiars, the band’s fifth full-length, explores that disconnect between past and present self. Its songs struggle to figure out where things went wrong and attempt to recognize that stranger in the mirror. Few songwriters are as well-equipped as Silberman to piece together an all-encompassing narrative. Like he did on Hospice, an emotionally shattering concept album set in a cancer ward, and Burst Apart, a lyrical autopsy of a dying relationship, Familiars is also broad in scope: It aims to come to terms with pain and regret and ultimately move forward.
Opener “Palace”—featuring twinkling pianos and plaintive horns that breezily waft in—finds Silberman pining for the past, “Before you were hid into a stranger you grew into as you learned to disconnect.” “Hotel” shows his need to escape, while his internal battle is laid out in the most literal terms on “Director.” Finally, there’s peace made on standout “Parade,” which melodically echoes Hospice highlight “Bear.” Here, he resolves to “start again, before the memory of the mess we made.”
Self-recorded and produced, Familiars is enveloped in a warm blanket of lush pianos, silky jazz-minded guitars, spacey synthesizers, and melancholic trumpets. The compositions are washed in hazy, but not overwhelming, reverb, maintaining a weightless, dreamlike atmosphere throughout. It moves from frighteningly brooding on “Doppelgänger” to a seductive and mournful guitar-based groove on “Hotel.” Closing with a majestic, horn-led catharsis on “Refuge,” The Antlers boast the band’s most wonderfully expansive songwriting.
Coming in at an ambitious 53 minutes, Familiars, with its lack of uptempo tracks, requires relatively patient listening. If it weren’t for its unequivocally gorgeous and engaging arrangements, the runtime would feel bloated and overstuffed. But ever since Hospice, Silberman’s enveloping and devastating attention to detail has required more than just a few casual spins. With this rewarding album, The Antlers take the band’s wounds and find glimmers of redemption and hope.