Review Summary: The Antlers demonstrate just how much they've grown as a band.
The Antlers are a band you can trust. If the atmosphere of any of their diverse albums draws you in, you can count on them to refine and expand it, and if you let yourself, you can get totally lost in them. The way they combine atmosphere with such beautiful song structures makes listening to them a more involved experience than most other bands, as if the atmospheres they create are a canvas on which their melodies and instrumentation are painted, and it takes time and attention to fully absorb both. Familiars takes this approach further than they’ve ever gone before, resulting in a gorgeous blend of craftsmanship and sheer musical ability, even if it might take a while for it to reveal itself.
This is because The Antlers clearly trust themselves, and as a result, they’ve made their most confident album to date. It’s impressive that it conveys confidence so strongly when the music itself is so slow-building and soothing. Despite the average track length being 6 minutes, Familiars never comes across as lazy or dragged out, but rather as meticulous and patient. Take “Revisited” for example. It’s built upon one simple repeating chord structure and lasts for nearly 8 minutes, but the obvious attention to detail and carefully timed evolutions in the song’s structure make it captivating. The horns that initially just add texture build until they blend perfectly with the keyboard’s melody, the guitar creeps its way from the background to the foreground and Peter Silberman’s vocals transition from quiet and restrained to extremely emotive and powerful. “Doppelganger” is another example, with the guitar gradually becoming more forceful as the song goes on. It all sounds remarkably well put-together; they know exactly when a song needs to evolve, and they always do so with enough subtlety to reward those who are willing to listen carefully.
Just like the individual songs do, Familiars evolves as a whole, both thematically and musically. The first half is more downbeat and reflective. Songs like ‘Hotel’ and ‘Intruders’ revolve around deep introspection and the pain that comes from looking into the past, and the music beautifully reflects these lyrical themes. ‘Hotel’ immediately creates a haunting, ominous atmosphere, and serves as the perfect backdrop for lines like “I rent a blank room to stop living in my past self.” Likewise, ‘Intruders’, with Silberman’s seamless transitions in and out of falsetto and its delicate melody makes lyrics like “when my double scales the wall I’ll know exactly where he’s landing and I’ll surprise him” more poignant than they already are. This cohesion between the music and the lyrics makes the album feel complete, and hearing the band execute their ideas so well on all levels makes for an extremely satisfying listen.
It’s on the second half however that Familiars really demonstrates The Antlers evolution as a band. Halfway through the triumphant ‘Parade’ Silberman asks “haven’t we suffered enough"” and the entire dynamic of the album changes. The atmosphere becomes less foreboding and sad, and more uplifting and hopeful. Lyrically, it still reflects heavily on the past, but with a new perspective; he finally seems able to fully accept and move on from it. On the closer ‘Refuge’ he sings “it’s not our house that we remember, but a feeling outside it,” and it sounds like a true revelation. This shift in tone happens quite suddenly but doesn’t come across as rushed because it’s clear that they’ve been building up to it throughout the whole album, and to a lesser extent, their whole career. It’s far from the heartbreaking tale of Hospice or the eerie loneliness of In The Attic of the Universe, but it’s just as gripping, undeniably emotional and beautiful. The Antlers have now proven they’re capable of nailing it with whatever type of album they want to make, and it’s clear that they’re not content with just repeating themselves. The amount of growth they’ve shown as a band in just 8 years is impressive, and with such huge yet subtle leaps forward between albums, they have one hell of a bright future ahead of them.