The Antlers deal in melancholy. Their records are intense and sad, drawing out songs to big, tragic conclusions. But although they have kind of cornered themselves into a grief-filled niche after three records, just characterizing them as sad and calling it a day would be a mistake. This is a musically ambitious project from the mind of Peter Silberman. On Familiars, the songs strike a pretty beautiful balance between lovely, poetic lyrics and huge, lush instrumentals.
The singles are the stars on this record. “Palace” isn’t hugely new for the band. It has no pop appeal and it’s fairly inscrutable (whereas past hits, like “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” had a bounciness to them that was a bit of a departure from previous work). The lyrics are hard to grasp, though oddly gorgeous and the sounds are huge and lumbering and overwhelm in the best way possible. “Hotel” ‒ the other single from the album ‒ is a bit more approachable. Silberman gives his best vocal performance of the album. It’s another example of The Antlers crafting a song that is so rough and sobering but still one that you want to come back to again and again—as masochistic as that might sound.
This formula can get a little caught up in itself at times. The songs can drag in certain instances, appearing to cycle through musical choices over and over again. “Doppelgänger” and “Surrender” seem to last forever through a fairly uninteresting sequence of Silberman’s crooning and mournful horns. Keep in mind: most songs work here, but these six- or seven-minute duds rob the album of the momentum it seeks to establish.
While some songs might meander, others soar. Many of these songs also take time to sink in, and I can’t say I’d be surprised if my opinions shift after more and more listens. But that’s just it: I can’t really stop listening, no matter how much of a downer it can be. These songs will surely mean different things to different people, just like on Hospice. In the end, The Antlers prove again that they are among the best at crafting well-written, fully-felt songs that seem almost painfully sincere.