Artist: The Antlers
Oh, how sweetly smooth The Antlers’ fifth release, Familiars, drips into the eardrums. The Brooklyn-based trio’s second major outing on American label ANTI-, Familiars owes a large debt to the floral jazz communities of NYC’s yesteryear. An indie-rock affair through most of its 53-minute runtime, it oozes with the sensibilities of New York’s past—and that city’s close associations with noire.
From the subtle introduction to “Palace” and onwards, Familiars occupies the same space as subway cars, rainy nights, and dirty halls. The delicately echoing sheen of Peter Silberman’s voice on “Intruders” sounds unbearably lonely, despite the dense but reserved instrumentation sitting just beside his wails. As a production piece, The Antlers’ have hit their stride after 2012’s Undersea EP, with a nearly orchestral selection of sounds mesmerizing behind each soft song: swirling synthesizers provide the backbone to “Director” while elsewhere the tranquility of a bowed banjo, trumpet, or accordion peek through the mix to interact with Silberman’s voice.
Although extraordinarily pleasant to listen to, Familiars doesn’t do too much to stray from the tried-and-true; there’s no surprise waiting around the corner of any of the album’s nine songs, unless you count the strangely upbeat “Parade”, which mimics a smooth-jazz beat so well it’s easy to forget you’re listening to a dream-pop band. So much of what makes Familiars special is its atmosphere, a blend of careful reverb and an implied space between each instrument which gives tremendous depth to each track. The brooding nature of the record will have listeners speaking in faximilies of Sam Spade almost immediately, dreaming of rain-slicked sidewalks and run-down apartment buildings.
It would be a stretch to write that the differences between Familiars, and Silberman’s first album as The Antlers back in 2006, Uprooted, are night-and-day: although it’s been nearly a decade in between the two, the frontman still carries that old particular frostiness through much of his present-day songwriting. Even what has changed most dramatically since then—the polish, the craftsmanship, and the patience that fellow bandmates Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci impart on The Antlers as a project—is to be expected. What is most pleasant to hear from the pages of Familiars is a sense of community and spirit for the idea of “home”. Uprooted was a direct response to Silberman moving to Brooklyn, and Familiars feels, in an oblong sort of way, like a tribute to the roots that have been sunk into the earth below New York’s pavement. Closers “Surrender” and “Refuge”, then, are a reflection of the eight years between now and then, a rather emotional homage to the memories collected within that gap. The Antlers are a stronger band for that reflection, and while Familiars doesn’t break any molds, it is very careful to observe and give light to its own cracks and worn edges.