Review Summary: “Universe was made to sound huge inside something small, or small inside something huge, depending on how you look at it.” – Pete Silberman
For reasons entirely unbeknown to me I decided to take physics at college, and since then the way I perceive space, time and the universe has completely changed, and honestly not in a good way. Of course, early years of youth alone taught us that we are miniscule in relation to the outside universe, however it’s only recently when I’ve had to take into account the sheer amount of digits that concern the universe’s size that it’s made me realise how so insignificant we are. A typical galaxy like the one we modestly inhabit can be around 100,000 light years
across, and there are hundreds of billions
of galaxies – we really are diminished by its expansion, a trivial speck on an engulfing blanket. So it comes as no surprise that someone, somewhere has decided to write music about this spectacle, and who better than The Antlers, whose portrayal of grief, sorrow and heartbreak was amongst the best I’d ever heard encapsulated within 2009’s Hospice
. Yet whilst being completely sure of Hospice
’s musical content and how well it could stand on its own, I was wary about how well their older material would come across, or whether it would be as overshadowed just as we are under the veil of the universe.
No, the humble pie didn’t taste quite as good as In the Attic of the Universe
After a lengthy and ambient introduction, a distinct acoustic guitar cuts through opener "In the Attic" plodding along with an empathic chord progression, lining the listener up for the first hint of Pete Silberman’s quivering vocals, always sweetly unassuming and just begging to be considered. It’s an intelligent strategy for sure; those who are unable to resist Silberman’s melancholic tone will find themselves cocooned in the delicate shell of his every word. "In The Snow" works this effect to the maximum, a meek guitar underlining the cold falsetto like a layer of thin ice. The Antlers are certainly ever-improving writers too, using an abundance of melodic ideas that showcase themselves wherever necessary to highlight a track in question. They also begin mastering the art of simple musical embellishment here too – "In the Attic" and "Stairs to the Attic" progress just as "Bear" and "Epilogue" do on Hospice
, the arrangements evolving, melodies and words morphing into something even more beautiful when they resurface once again.
Interspersed between the more folk-driven ventures of In the Attic
are the more ambient tracks which offer a chance for ponder, and a chance to slacken the tension that your one-hundred-and-one conflicting thoughts tug with. "Shh!" for example quietly paints warm, pearly fragments, a likely representation of stars hanging wearily in the night sky, that sway you like a pendulum somewhere between the plains of consciousness and sleep. Despite this, linking track "The Carrying Arms" works in a completely different way, it’s more musically structured with reversed instrumentation and minor percussion, yet in this respect it fails to fully achieve anything, and as such these instrumental tracks can’t quite stand up for themselves. After all, the disappointment seems to lie in the fact that they lack arguably the most endearing aspect of The Antlers – the vocals.
Closer "Stairs to the Attic" ends the album on an extremely promising tone though, and with the gift of hindsight it's obvious The Antlers realised their full potential come 2009. Both the musical and theoretical ideas presented within this album are always interesting, even if they’re not always conveyed in the most successful way, yet as an album of reflection, personal or global, In the Attic
will do nicely. Their expertise in creating a sparse-but-dense paradox is captivating enough, but some listeners may find themselves expecting just a little more throughout its cohesive but short running time. Though still dwarfing, albeit in an entirely different way, In the Attic of the Universe
is a slightly more warming separation from its successor. Don’t expect it to be nearly as deep as Hospice
, yet songs with such a ghostly presence like "On the Roof" prove it’s still hard to balance on a beam with a sea of empathy underneath you. In short, yes the universe is overwhelming, but this isn’t quite
the album to personify the awe.