A decade ago, the Antlers were a deadly fucking serious band working at an unsustainable emotional pitch. Their preferred metaphors for doomed relationships included, but were not limited to, a terminal cancer patient, a dead dog, and a fire that claimed the lives of three children. By their fifth album, 2014’s Familiars, Antlers occupied a fascinating space between slinky jazz and smoked-out space-rock. But the past eventually caught up to them. Suffering from tinnitus, vocal lesions, and physical exhaustion, Silberman quietly put Antlers aside, took up gardening and meditation, fostered a fulfilling relationship, and made a solo album, Impermanence, that used silence as an instrument. He brings the past seven years with him on Antlers’ latest album, Green to Gold, finding a peace that once seemed incompatible with this band.
“I set out to make Sunday morning music,” Silberman explained, a laid-back posture that forms the foundation of the album’s artistic vision. Green to Gold is designed for the part of the week with the lowest stakes and the strongest indication of where someone’s at in their lives: Are you waking up with a splitting hangover? Lying in with a loved one? Getting up early to work on the yard? As with Impermanence, Green to Gold begins with nearly 10 seconds of silence, paying homage to Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock, a foundational text for artists considering a life off the grid, and for everything Antlers have done since breaking out of Silberman’s bedroom.
But for the most part, Antlers sound influenced by themselves. When they came out of hiding for the 10-year anniversary of Hospice, the band played unplugged at venues like Hollywood Forever Cemetery, reconfiguring songs out of necessity. No longer able to rely on the surges of distortion or Silberman’s shattering falsetto peaks to deliver the emotional death blow, Antlers eased back and let the devastating beauty of the songs speak in a whisper.
That approach carries over to singles “Wheels Roll Home” and “Solstice,” where Silberman’s vocals dissipate rather than surge on the chorus, striking a tone of awestruck wonder. Green to Gold works with only the lightest brushstrokes, its ambience either a spring breeze or a slight winter chill, or in the case of “Volunteer,” a distant crackle of heat lightning. The instrumentation is unerringly lustrous and brilliant—12-string guitars, capos at a perilously high fret, saxophones, slide guitars, a post-rock orchestra playing a campfire gig. At times, this concept is rendered literally: Silberman spends the seven-minute title track narrating the change of the seasons and follows it with a song called “Porchlight.” Nearly every moment of quiet is a field recording from his upstate New York home, filled with the sounds of crickets and cicadas.
For all of its soft-focus beauty, Green to Gold is not subtle; Antlers never have been. “Keepin’ bright, bright, bright,” Silberman coos on “Solstice,” an uncomplicated song about uncomplicated summer days. Yet no matter how much Antlers try to serve as a magic-hour backdrop, Green to Gold is just as anchored in conflict as its more overtly conceptual predecessors. If “Stubborn Man” and “Just One Sec” strain a bit to fit into their classic soul rhyme structures, it parallels the central struggle of Antlers’ long-awaited return. “For just one sec, free me from me,” Silberman pleads, one of many intimate moments that can easily be extrapolated to a larger conversation between the band and its audience. Green to Gold isn’t likely to be anyone’s introduction to Antlers, which is why a song like “It Is What It Is” is not a dismissive cliché but instead the album’s centerpiece. We are hearing someone who risked his physical and emotional well-being searching for catharsis with “Two” and “Bear” and “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” and discovered freedom in acceptance. Green to Gold might feel peaceful, but it didn’t come easy.
Buy: Rough Trade
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