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Being a band in Brooklyn is no easy task. Just ask the members of The Antlers, who over the last few years, have fought to stand out among about 150 or so neighborhood Animal Collective wannabes.
Luckily for the band, they don't have to worry about being lumped in with the bulk of the Brooklyn set: Thanks mostly to the band's breakout record, 2009's Hospice, The Antlers have established themselves as a staunchly un-trendy band. While many of their contemporaries were living in the shadows of Avey Tare and Panda Bear, The Antlers were crafting a painfully sad, lyrically dense concept album that equates the end of a relationship to death by an incurable disease. Incredibly depressing stuff indeed. The music stands on its own quite nicely, though, without the help of any quirky gimmicks. It's just good music, full of substance and sadness.
But the band seems to be shedding the latter on their latest release, Burst Apart. That, however, doesn't mean they're going to start following the in crowd.
"I've never thought of us as a trendy band by any means," says The Antlers' keyboard player, Darby Cicci. "We've never really been attached to a genre."
Even still, they seem to be getting on quite nicely with the rest of the neighborhood. Just after recording Burst Apart, which was recently released to critical acclaim, the band invited fellow Brooklynite (and former Dentonite) Alan Palomo of Neon Indian over for a collaboration on "Rolled Together," a slow-burning, stoned-out track from Burst Apart. The session was filmed, and the finished product offered a powerful extended version of the song. Somehow, despite the two bands' musical differences, the collaboration turned out to be quite impressive.
"[Alan's] a really cool kid," Cicci says. "He's built a genre on his own, which is very impressive."
And now that The Antlers have wiped the slate clean of their previous record, Hospice, they feel free to do more collaborations along these lines. To hear Cicci tell it, a certain weight was lifted off the band's shoulders: "Playing semi-morose music everyday for two years...you don't realize how much you need a break from that."
Take a break they did: Judging by the direction the band took on Burst Apart, they cut ties with a lot of ideas on Hospice. For starters, they left the concept album format behind, trading it in for a cohesive group of songs that takes the listener from A to B.
"The goal was to try to make this sort of an arch of a record," Cicci says. "We knew how it started, and we knew how it ended. The idea was that it was this sort of journey through the record rather than a bunch of songs."
The journey is clear, even upon first listen. The record begins triumphantly with "I Don't Want Love," followed by the danceable "French Exit."
"People are starting to dance at our shows," Cicci says proudly of that cut.
The next section of the album has more of an anxious, nervous, almost tumultuous feel. Then the record winds down peacefully with "Hounds" and "Corsicana," which are sure to provide the soundtrack to peaceful nights this summer. Finally, it ends with "Putting The Dog To Sleep," which with its soul-influenced balladry seems slightly out of place with the rest of the record, but brings a new element to the kaleidoscope of influences that already exist on the disc.
It's clear throughout the album that The Antlers were experimenting with myriad ideas during its recording. But by utilizing everything from electronics to soul to African rhythms to thick keyboard sounds, they're still not looking to anyone else to set the pace. Sure enough, they're following their own compass once more.
"Some people start bands because they want to be cool," Cicci says. "Much more interesting things can happen when you just sit down and try to be influenced by the instruments you're playing or how you feel."