The Antlers describe Hospice as ““The result of Manhattan isolation and Brooklyn re-emergence recorded over the course of two years in an apartment.” That only touches the surface. Hospice is a powerful and sonically masterful indie rock record that combines some of the most moving and disturbing lyrics you will hear all year with an aural assault of heavy heavenly beauty, both electric and acoustic. Expect to see it on a number of the better end of year lists.
Hospice is a thematic album, dare we say it, a concept album. Whether it’s fictional or non fictional is almost beside the point, but it does tell a story. A layered tale of two characters relationship, one of whom is dying. It is profoundly dark, flitting between memories of abuse and the present until eventually “Every machine stopped at once, and the monitors beeped the last time.”
In an age where the digital download has led to the average listener being unable to connect with any listening experience over five minutes long, Hospice is a kick back against such attention span deficit. This is an album that demands to be heard from start to finish in its entirety. Individual tracks simply don’t work as well as how The Antlers probably intended you to listen to their work - immersed and uninterrupted. It’s also vital that you listen with the lyric book held in your hand, only this way can you feel the austere weight of this recording as some of the words are difficult to make out without it. For example on Two, as vocalist Peter Silberman describes the inevitability of the girls death he also sings of past betrayals “They should have listened, they thought you were lying. Daddy was an asshole, he fucked you up, built gears in your head, now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating. Eighty seven pounds and all this bears repeating.” Elsewhere the rage and madness of the situation is described on Atrophy in the lyric “Someone, oh anyone, tell me how to stop this. She’s screaming, expiring, and I’m her only witness.” It’s pretty uneasy listening.
Besides the black current and poetic density of the lyrics the music is mighty and intense - a mix of the subtle and the explosive. On Sylvia waves of crashing noise and feedback ring hard as lead singer Peter Silberman wails “Sylvia, get your head out of the oven. Go back to screaming and cursing, remind me again how everyone betrayed you.” Thirteen starts off with a moody haunting ambience before gradually morphing into waves of shimmering shoe-gaze guitar which then drops into almost silence for a ghostly female voice to call “Pull me out, pull me out, can’t you stop this all from happening?” over the lightest of piano sounds. On Kettering Silberman sets the scene of the two main characters, it’s never clear if they knew each other before this moment - “You’d been abused by the bone that refused you, and you hired me to make up for that. Walking in that room when you had tubes in your arms, those singing morphine alarms out of tune kept you sleeping and even,” over distorted distant piano that evolves into distraught and angry noise. It’s not always an easy listen requiring some patience, but the journey is worth it.
Hospice bears some similarities to another recent release - First Days Of Spring by Noah and the Whale, in that it that feels more like a film than simply a collection of songs and is bare and gut-wrenchingly sad. Buy the CD (not the download), admire the well thought out internal cover art picturing stark hospital scenes in black and white and read the lyrics rather than just listening to them. Hospice is the rarest of things in this decade; an extraordinary album that demands to be physically owned and consumed with your ears from start to finish.