Saturday, January 23, 2010

This post is about The Antlers.

This is kind of companion post to the earlier on about how I spent my iTunes xMas giftcard. A day or two before Pitchfork started posting their Top 50 Albums of 2009, I bought 3 cd's as Christmas gifts. All three at the same record store, and all three ended up making the list. One was about what I'd have suspected, one was suprising in its rank (though not its inclusion), and one was a surprise to even appear.

"1901" Phoenix busking in front of La Tour Eiffel

I'd pretty much figured that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (#8) by Phoenix would be in the top 10. They handed out an 8.5 review, and I heard a lot about Phoenix and this album for much of the year. Only the use of their song in a Cadillac commercial would surprise me. At least a little, but they do have a catchy, pop-laden non-alt rock-n-roll hook to them.

"Stillness is the Move" from Bitte Orca (2009)

I'd have staked serious money on the Dirty Projectors' more arty, "challenging" album, Bitte Orca, making the list. They were critical darlings and punching-bags this year, but #2?!?! I mean, Pitchfork loves them some weirdo music (9.2 review), but Animal Collective was already coming at #1. It's like, didn't these guys work with White Rainbow? I mean, wasn't their previous album a collection of indie-barbershop/lounge-prog Black Flag covers? Whatever, dude. This post is about The Antlers.

"Two" by The Antlers, from Hospice (2009)

Okay, so they got a 8.5 review, but it was a quiet 8.5! I still wasn't expecting Hospice at #37... an ambient-noise-folk-ballad-pop concept album about love, abortion, cancer, attempted suicide and death?? The Antlers had been one guy, but are now a band. I'd found hearty recommendations in a place with much more overlap with Pitchforkbacklash than with common purpose. So, its inclusion at not-totally-bottom-rung levels was a suprise to me. Just wait!

So, fast-forward a couple of weeks... when Pitchfork put up its 2009 Readers Poll. DP at #3 (-1), Phoenix at #4 (+4), and Hospice at #8 (+29)! Whaaa? The Yeah Yeah Yeah's It's Blitz jumped from the official #12 to #10, but otherwise the readers' matched the site's Top 10. So, it's somewhat of a minor revolution - kinda.

Anyway, the artwork kind of gives you an idea where we're headed. Since it's a concept album with a whole story and everything, lyrics start on page 3. Overall, I'd describe it as naked bludgeoning by painful vulnerability. The songwriter is unabashed by excess emotionality, no nerve to raw to sandpaper. The vocals usually mixed so low that it forces attention. Even the histrionic screaming seems whispered, and actually most of the singing is pretty well whispered. With lyrics so literal and brutally direct that it creates the weird effect of calling attention to any occasional subtlety.

The music's your basic indie-pop of the acoustic variety: guitar and piano mostly, with a rhythm section mostly. But then there's more layered on, variously effects, noise, brass section bombast, combinations of things... Field recordings, for all I know. It's overall pretty good. The singer does go on and on, but it gives it a sense of urgency. Like he desperately needs to get it all out. I've only listened to it through once (tonight, for this) - but there's definitely something going on. And I can see why people respond to it, although it's not totally in my wheelhouse style-wise.

"Kettering" from Hospice (2009)

Over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed it on a few year-end lists I wouldn't have predicted - or at levels unexpected: I Don't Care About Sleep (#3), Stereogum (#8), The A/V Club (#11), Paste Magazine (#17). And finally, some website I just found called (#4). You can't get more authoritative than that URL!!

Just thought it was worth mentioning, since I'd noticed it.

No comments: