I was in a state of emotional stagnation earlier on in the year, feeling bored and not particularly inclined to feel either happy or sad to any noticeable degree. If it's not too cliché to say so, I was numb. I then listened to Hospice and it all came back. I started feeling again simply because of this music. Hospice is so incredibly depressing and well executed that it becomes hard to listen to, despite being melodically and texturally flawless. It's evocative in the truest sense.
One of the reasons that The Antlers manage to be so emotionally striking is their undeniable authenticity. And truly, authenticty is such a vital part of their emotional impact because of how connected the music is to the songwriter and band. You can feel their personal emotions seeping through. Because The Antlers manage to make otherwise interesting and distinctive sound elements they use (i.e, shoegaze tones, pop melodies) as a secondary, instead of primary focus of their music, the listener can really focus on the songwriting and what the songs are actually trying to get across - the songwriting holds up the music, not vice-versa. The band tie in textural elements frequently found in post rock and shoegaze soundscaping, and integrates them with more conventional songwriting and vocal deliveries, in a way that doesn’t simply sound like an amalgamation of different influences. In other words, The Antlers define their own sound by having evolved far beyond the process of extracting elements from other bands and utilizing them for aesthetic appeal.
Hospice also seamlessly integrates the lyrical content and narrative with the instrumentation. Although there is no sampling used on the album, the sounds themselves is enough to evoke imagery directly correlated to the lyrical content. On the second track, Kettering, the melancholy is instantly established far before you hear any lyrics, starting with minimal upright piano playing, and whispery and strained singing fluctuating in and out of falsetto. Directly after the lines “And I didn't believe them when they told me that there was no saving you”, a cathartic burst of synthesizer drone, a marching band snare beat, and airy reverberated vocals permeate auditory space. Although Kettering is a common example of using pronounced instrumentation to accent a lyrical point, it’s to be noted that The Antlers are the absolute masters of this craft, and tonality is perfectly matched with entire songs, evoking the cold sterility of hospital rooms with synthesizer melodies that recall an electrocardiogram, background tones that sound like the hums of a ventilation system, and guitars and pianos that guide the more ambient elements into the catastrophic mental states that Hospice exemplifies.
This may sound like a limited critique of what we consider the number two album of the decade, but at the same time, with these two elements I’ve described of The Antlers, it’s hard to not realize how distinctively brilliant they are when compared to the rest of the music that has come out in the decade. Watching someone die and feeling a part of you die inside is something that can’t be described in text, and if it could, a musical form to convey such a thing wouldn’t be necessary. The Antlers do something strange to the listener that I can’t even place in words; it’s not merely depressing listening session, it’s almost a completely different experience.