Sound — 7
From the start, The Antlers was a simple solo music project founded by Peter Silberman, with a humble setup of music-making essentials and a desire to create. After releasing a couple albums and EPs, Silberman would bring aboard drummer Michael Lerner, who was a guest musician on the "New York Hospitals" EP, and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Darby Cicci to The Antlers' roster - it was then that the newly-metamorphosed band would create their critically-lauded, breakthrough album, "Hospice," which would put The Antlers on the indie music radar and get them signed with Frenchkiss Records. Keeping the momentum going, The Antlers would release their fourth album, "Burst Apart," two years later. "Burst Apart" would be The Anters' display of a more conventional indie rock composition - as opposed to the long and lingering "Hospice," which stayed downbeat throughout and oftentimes drifted into uncharted waters - and would once again impress the critics, as well as garner a bunch of new fans with its rock-oriented sound. The Antlers would head back to the studio shortly after "Burst Apart," and after releasing another EP, "Undersea," in 2012, they're now back with their fifth studio album, "Familiars."
Some may have seen "Undersea" as an attempt to appease The Antlers' fans that like their downbeat & depressing-sounding style after "Burst Apart" displayed a noteworthy serving of pep - but now it seems that "Undersea" was just a foreshadow of what "Familiars" would bring to the table, which is another downbeat-driven album. But while "Familiars" does bear a similar form to "Hospice" in terms of low-gear pacing and prolonged tracks (no song on the album has a runtime under 4:50), it's not simply "Hospice 2.0," and goes in a different musical direction for The Antlers - smooth jazz and soft rock. Though they've been known to dabble with horn sections in their past few releases, the horns play an integral role in the album - oftentimes responding to Silberman's melancholic croons with an equal amount of gloom, sounding as if a ska ensemble took too much melatonin. In the early songs like "Palace," "Doppelganger" and "Hotel," the guitar elements are quite reserved in comparison to the horns and swelling synths (which give the dominant smooth jazz/soft rock flavor a nice dose of psychedelia), but as the album progresses, the guitar's presence grows stronger and more soulful in songs like "Parade," "Surrender" and "Refuge" - this is also good because the horn sections simultaneously begin to grow somewhat stale as the album progresses. Amongst the strong assembly of melodic elements, the bass and drums do a good job further establishing the lounge jazz aesthetic; with easygoing drum-lines that never disrupt the delicate aural palate (even utilizing traditional jazz brushing techniques in "Surrender"), and bass-lines that not only provide a solid jazz groove, but end up being quite autonomous and interesting, especially in "Intruders," "Revisited" and "Refuge."
Lyrics — 8
For The Antlers and their lyrical content, Silberman placed the bar pretty high after "Hospice," which showcased a heartwrenching concept of a hospice worker and a terminal cancer patient falling in love. "Familiars" may not bear a full-blown story concept in its lyrics, but the prominent theme Silberman explores in the album is the metaphorical duality of oneself. The dualism isn't flatly identified as that between good and evil or bluntly represented by a split-personality, but rather, it ends up being ambiguous and relatable, varying case by case: Silberman voices his concern for his friend's transformation from young innocence and purity to an older, disconnected stranger in "Palace," and also tries helping that friend out in "Director"; yet Silberman voices his disdain for his own past self that he can't seem to escape, nor want to, in "Hotel." Silberman's self-remorse also comes from a dislike of the person he's become, and he delves into his own dark side in "Doppelganger" and "Intruder," where he goes from nearly physically perceiving his own dark side in a frightened manner to intending on capturing his dark side and accusing him, which, in turn, would recursively be blaming himself: "Why'd you let me let you in when I was younger? /And why'd I need to?" Along with several recurring themes in between songs and a substantial amount of symbolism, Silberman executes the lyrical element in "Familiars" pretty well.
Overall Impression — 7
The Antlers' choice to put all of their eggs in the jazzy music basket of "Familiars" was a bold one, yet it was necessary in order to pull it off properly. An album that travels in low-gears for almost an hour isn't an easy route to go, but their commitment to this axiom is what makes it strong. However, it's the gripping lyrics that really fuel this album for success - the forlorn compositions provide the perfect partnership for the introspective storytelling, and had the lyrics been any less thought-provoking, the music may have come off as pretentious. But even in spite of this, The Antlers were probably aware that not everyone would be on board with "Familiars": while fans of "Hospice" may be easy to enjoy this album, those that aren't intrigued within the first fifteen minutes of the album probably won't be into it at all. For those that are longing for more energetic indie rock from The Antlers, you won't get it here, but perhaps there will be more of that to come if and when The Antlers head back to the studio.