Review: The Antlers – “Familiars”

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“Meditation has been pretty influential. I became really interested in the structure of it—the way you are led into it, the way you sink deeper and deeper into it, and the way you are pulled out of it, back to reality.” –Peter Silberman, The Antlers

The depth of that into which Silberman finds himself sinking, we may never know; but one thing is for certain: If there exists a suitable soundtrack for life’s most tranquil doings—meditation, yoga, getting properly stoned whilst cooking breakfast tacos on a Sunday—it is The Antlers’ new album, Familiars.

Never before have The Antlers utilized more space or shown more patience in composition than on Familiars, not even on its chilled-out precursor, Undersea—an EP that arguably sounds better rotating at 33 RPM’s than the prescribed 45. Familiars is an expansion on the trio’s most recent work, yet more ambitious and cohesive in vision. “It’s important that we had long instrumental passages to have room to improvise, experiment, and let the mood develop,” Silberman explains during an aimless stroll around the Westport neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri, moments before the band melted a sold-out Riot Room. “But it comes down to taking risks for the right reasons. You have to have solid intent going into the creative process.”

Subtle risk-taking has remained a vital component of The Antlers’ approachably experimental aesthetic since the release of 2009’s Hospice—an album that struck a near-perfect balance of diverse musicality and raw, relatable lyrical content. Hospice’s inevitable, yet unexpected success acted as a springboard, bequeathing unto The Antlers a myriad of new opportunities, the most fruitful being an enlarged road map for touring. Whereas many spirits are broken on the road, the influx of live shows served as a gelling mechanism and catalyst for true collaboration amongst The Antlers, a project that was initially launched as the sole effort of Silberman. 

By the time Burst Apart was released in 2011, multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner were making sound-shaping contributions to the band’s music, a trajectory that would eventually land them in their current state of interdependency. Silberman described the effect of this dynamic on the writing process during Familiars: “A faith has developed from playing together for so long that we sort of know how to imagine the others while writing. I think that’s why the songs have become more spacious, because we’re leaving room for each other to coexist while writing.” This trust has broadened The Antlers’ creative scope by allowing the strengths of each member to grow individually. Evidence of this mutual development is found throughout Familiars—Silberman no longer defaults to his usual falsetto, Cicci has created a voice of his own with the trumpet, and Lerner’s approach to the drums is as cleanly complicated as any.

On July 2nd, The Antlers stopped in Kansas City to share a live interpretation of their new album with an anxious and at-capacity crowd. Each audience member nodded in unison to an hour of deep-cutting new material, peppered with old favorites. The Antlers played with the brand of energy unique to veteran bands just a few dates into a touring cycle—nothing to prove and everything to give. Allowing the ground to acquiesce beneath their audience and helping them to sink, deeper and deeper, to unfamiliar depth. 

Watch The Antlers perform songs off the new album for an in-studio performance at KEXP in Seattle: 

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