High-flown, emotional concept: check. Wailing, earnest vocals: check. Literary references: check. Buzz from Pitchfork and NPR: check. Yup, the Antlers' Hospice is as indie-rock cognoscenti-friendly as Arcade Fire's debut, and shares many of its main ingredients. Yet this Brooklyn band's debut full-length makes for a decidedly uneasy listen next to the comparatively sunny Funeral.
Hospice is an infirmary and a psych ward, and the band's sonic dynamics do well to simulate those environments. Hushed promises and pleadings give way to bitter demands, give way to brass fanfares and tuneful feedback. Let me take your temperature, Peter Silberman bleats insistently over a slab of chugging guitars in the anxious sickbed ballad "Sylvia." It sounds like a last request made in the throes of a panic attack. That's fitting — there's somebody dying of cancer here.
Hospice is a protracted public mourning for somebody who's dying, not dead, and the narrator is at a loss as to how to ease the pain — the patient's and his own. The music doesn't forget this: Even the moments of beauty and reconciliation are plaintive, or bitter, or full of regret — to the very end. Take this line from "Epilogue," the final track and one of the album's tamest: You're screaming and cursing and angry and hurting me and then smiling and crying and apologizing. By the time Silberman sings these words, if you've been listening, you're exhausted. (Frenchkiss)
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