Its lasting impression is one of cathartic, hard-won transcendence.
James Skinner 2009
There is much to say about Hospice, but of most import is its sheer heart. Born out of isolation and all manner of personal tumult suffered by bandleader Peter Silberman, it balances clinical austerity with deeply humanistic concerns, questioning the very nature of benevolence. More specifically, it asks where you draw the line: when does compassion become self-sacrifice? Likewise devotion, obsession? Selflessness, folly? These are big, searching questions, and Silberman posits them with an earnest conviction that on occasion proves excruciating.
The narrative finds its protagonist on the cusp of losing a loved one to terminal illness. A milieu of whitewashed cancer wards is vividly realised; from its stark artwork through to the duelling swathes of static and melody upon which it opens – and especially Silberman’s haunted, keening falsetto – Hospice is a fantastically evocative work, which refuses to shy away from its grand themes or unashamedly ‘concept’ tone.
Comparisons have been drawn with the likes of Arcade Fire, Cursive and Bon Iver, and they’re not far off the mark: these acts’ bludgeoning emotional weight and reflection on mortality is ubiquitous, and like Justin Vernon, Silberman wrangles great beauty out of solitude (this recording is the result of two years’ seclusion on his part).
Undoubtedly working best in its entirety, its 52 minutes variously clatter and soothe, thrash and pacify. Melodies circle and eddy throughout, brass and piano adding welcome shade to a shimmering sonic palette. Traditional song structures are present, but The Antlers’ expressive soundscapes are just as likely to dwindle and fade before emerging in notably different style – see the clinking waves of noise on Thirteen eventually ceding in order that Sharon Van Etten’s vocals glimmer and rise, or the dreamlike ripples that form when the bottom falls out of Two’s anthemic surge.
Implicitly a solemn, emotionally taxing record, it remains an utterly compelling and addictive piece of work. A conclusion of sorts is reached as it approaches its coda; amid the luminescent swell of Wake Silberman offers his central character comfort long overdue – an assertion of hope in the direst of circumstances. Because if Hospice is ultimately an exploration of sorrow and of guilt, it’s also a testament to the human spirit, and its lasting impression is one of cathartic, hard-won transcendence.