There’s a lot of terror on the second album from Brooklyn trio The Antlers—which is a little strange, given that the album is fearless. Seemingly unconcerned about whether his work might be criticized as overcooked, songwriter Peter Silberman has crafted a concept piece populated with slow-motion feedback cyclones, melodies lifted from nursery rhymes, cavernous loud/soft shifts, and lyrics fixated on life’s little themes: love, death, and guilt. Reference points abound, from Godspeed You Black Emperor’s protracted moodiness to My Bloody Valentine’s pink-tinged guitar tones to Arcade Fire’s death-obsessed, life-affirming choruses. And yet Hospice sidesteps cliché, or at least overwhelms it.
Songs emerge from the mist, bump against one another, and dissipate in the space of one track. There’s a straightforward appeal to the album’s dynamism and fatalism, but that appeal swells with each close listen: Slowly, it becomes clear that the album’s central narrative, in which a cancer sufferer screams at her caregiver, is a well-constructed allegory for an emotionally abusive relationship. On both levels, the protagonist pins his conscience to the fate of someone doomed to self-destruct. “Wake” delivers resolution: “Some patients can’t be saved, but that burden’s not on you.” And yet the album ends with a nightmare ballad about that lost patient. Fear persists: It’s a message that, like Hospice’s music, isn’t as simple as it sounds.