Review Summary: Just be here now.
Open your eyes. Hold my hand tight. Let the walls of your world fall away as you slip into this moment. This moment is, after all, all we have. Heady words for a heady album. But when approaching a record like Antlers In Velvet its discussion necessitates a certain level of abstraction. This album, Leon III’s sophomore effort, is a bombastic, technicolor dream that swings for the fences and lands among the stars. So, tune in dear reader, and your patience will be rewarded by the many hidden truths lurking just beneath this record’s glimmering surface.
Antlers In Velvet is a musical chimera: a two-toned monolith of psychedelia and country that is comprised of dusty acoustic strings, languid, writhing passages of electric guitar, and layer upon layer of gruff, heavenly vocals that tease your ear with secret moments and sweet nothings:
“Your dressing gown & your braided hair…”
“Can you feel the weight of the flowers? It was me who placed them there.”
Upon hearing each strumming chord and each echoing verse you can smell warm summertime squalls and see the glittering starlight gently blanketing our sky. The album’s sound & structural blueprint boasts an essential quality and primal appeal that, like our innate capacity for language, seems to be lifted directly from our internal auditory architecture. Because of this, Antlers In Velvet is never ‘beyond’ its listeners, in spite of the enormity of its sound, its psychedelic tangents, or its heady, home-spun lyricism:
“A word about forever: it goes on and on…”
“Don’t say it all over, this whisper is ours.”
The marriage of psychedelia and country has been flirted with before, but never embraced with such a deft hand. It works as well as it does here because Leon III, compositionally, lean very heavily into the former, while leaving its core roots firmly planted in the latter. The fact that this album works as well as it does raises an important question: why did it take until the start of the third decade of the 21st century for the music world to produce a definitive synthesis of these two genres？On the surface, the answer is simple: they’re an almost inherent mismatch: and to understand why, we need to dig into the ontology of these genres. And in the process, the ontology of Antlers In Velvet, and what gives it such significance and power over me.
Country, simultaneously revered and reviled as both essential and facile, is characterized by its earnest drawling poeticism, twanging guitar tones, and dusty shuffling drum beats which, at their best converge to comfort you with salt of the earth secrets. Whispered in your ear with the deep throaty croon of your grandfather’s pickup truck. It is, as a genre, intentionally simplistic, immediate, and personal. Therein lies its strength: the fact that it has nothing to hide. It is the dirt under your fingernails after a day in the orchard. It is the dust under your collar on your way into town. The sweat on your brow and the glint in the reflection of the eyes of your love.
And it is absolutely nothing more than that.
Psychedelia, by contrast, is intended to be unfamiliar *by default*. It is concerned with exploring the unknown, about jigsaw puzzles of color and sensation that tease a hidden meaning. The genre leverages kaleidoscopic production, dissonant guitar distortion, and lengthy compositions to evoke a palpable sense of mystery and tease us with the allure of the unknown. It is the rush of breath being sucked out of your lungs when looking inward into the unknown. It is the mind-bending beauty of the neurological synapses between our ears. It is the enormity of the stars in the cosmos.
It is all of that and absolutely everything else in between.
Where Country offers clarity, Psychedelia obfuscates. How could the two possibly be any more different？
And yet Leon III has struck a chord in finding the common thread between the two: that they are, at their heart of hearts, both about the individual catharsis of encountering the truth of such moments that make up our lives: personal and universal alike. Because Leon III has stumbled upon the secret of personal and universal truths: that there is no difference between the two. That the tenets of collectivism and universality that are core to the psychedelic mindset are always nested in the significance of the individual experience. The earth-shattering power of the simple moments. The enormity of the individual snapshot memories that make up our lives.
Antlers in Velvet is the realization of this singularity. It is, for a lack of a better word: a revelation.
The truth is this: the psychedelic and thematic breadth of Antlers In Velvet belies it’s narrow, narrative simplicity for an important reason. Lyrically, the album is narrow in scope because it’s scope is YOU. It’s subject is all of the little cliché moments that make up the drama that is your life. Reverberating through eternity, in all its boundless significance and splendor. Antlers In Velvet wisely avoids lengthy narrative passages that threaten to describe these moments in crippling detail: instead it focuses on the impressions these moments leave on your life. Because, as author Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said: “what matters most in life is not what happens to you: but what you remember, and how you remember it.”