Review Summary: time keeps on slipping
The film released to accompany The Antlers' latest offering is, depending on how you approach it, one of two things. Either a powerful, haunting study of one couple's relationship interpreted through dance and fractured time, or a boring 50 minutes of people dancing in a sun-dappled house and some fields. As with all art, I'm increasingly convinced, what you get out of it has as much to do with what you're willing to bring, to give over to it, than the objective contents of the art itself. Which is, handily, an apt thesis statement for Green to Gold
"I wanted to make a record that felt kind of reliable", Peter Silberman told American Songwriter, noting his increasing distance from albums with one or two Big Tracks that stand out from the rest. Indeed, Green to Gold
has no towering "Wake"-style showstoppers; even the seven-minute title track is an exercise in mantra-like repetition that resolutely refuses to build. While Familiars
, the galaxy-brain take for The Antlers' magnum opus, delighted into twisting its bluesy structures into unsettling passages that demanded a spot on the Twin Peaks Return
soundtrack, Green to Gold
is the logical continuation of where that album ended, finding grace in "Surrender" and "Refuge". The latest album by indie rock's stalwarts of subtle evolution and refinement will not disappoint those of us who always delighted in their hidden textures and atmospheres as much as barn-burning screamalongs; it is a resolutely peaceful affair, totally unconcerned with forcing drama or histrionics onto its gorgeous landscapes.
Of course, real-life circumstances had more than a small hand in encouraging this musical evolution. Silberman's hearing issues, which all but ensured he could only listen to and play the kind of intensely quiet music found on solo record Impermanence
, combined with the departure of multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci, means that Green to Gold
was born out of relaxed weekend jam sessions between Silberman and drummer Michael Lerner in the same home studio where Hospice
and In the Attic of the Universe
were made. It sounds bigger and cleaner than those early records, but the same sense of one man staring up at the night sky in wonder (and sometimes terror) has some echoes here - although now it's one man staring out at nature from a porch bathed in sunlight, watching time slip away in that liminal Sunday space where linearity seems to disappear.
"The week went slow, the year flew by", Silberman sings in the arresting "Solstice", and it's about as good a mission statement as any for an album where snapshots of life seem to be trapped in amber and shuffled around out of order. The unbelievably pretty "Just One Sec" sees the narrator begging a partner to "free me from your limiting ideas of me", and offering the same release "from my interpretation of history". If you were so inclined, you could interpret the song as Peter Silberman talking to his audience, asking to be freed from the weight of expectation of the past and offering the same clemency going into the future. Or, y'know, not - there's plenty of imperfect, impermanent beauty in Green to Gold
without me reading into things that aren't there. Not to say the album is totally free of the darkness The Antlers have always fought: "It Is What It Is" seems to grapple with the fallout of the Trump administration's handling of COVID (or lack thereof) with precise and cutting language, while "Volunteer" frames a bittersweet kiss-off to a previous life with a shoegazey build that wouldn't be out of place on Undersea
. The most significant change here is that Silberman is excavating the darkest parts of his songwriting to the surface, letting them wilt in the sunlight instead of simmering underneath.
Perhaps the most telling quote from Silberman discusses the idea of "this album being a few journeys around the sun and ending up back where you began, but later in time". There's a good reason "Green to Gold" is the album's title track and centrepiece; embodying the entire cycle of seasons in seven minutes and change, it's a piece of music that genuinely feels timeless, a classic future generations will study when every season is just one long winter because humans broke the planet. Good thing that Peter Silberman, whose acuity and brevity with words has always been an even stronger asset than his gorgeous voice, can more or less summarise the entirety of human life with a stanza like this:
Morning's bright, the ancient ice withdraws
I take one step and the ground begins to thaw
Tiny grasses spring up 'round my shoe
Eager bits of green start peeking through
Where Silberman and co. one traced all the tiny moments in a relationship that catch at your heart with devastating detail, that cynical darkness and thin metaphor has been replaced by a dreamy heat-haze ramble along a timeline out of order. One of Green to Gold
's final lines is an entreaty to "flip on the porchlight if you sense I'm lost / and we'll find a way back together", all at once bringing to a close the album's Sunday fantasy while looping back to linked imagery at the conclusion of Familiars
. It would be an incredible conclusion to a sublime discography, but thankfully it feels like The Antlers are just beginning, even fifteen years on.