The Antlers @ The Oobleck, Birmingham – 23/10/2014

The synthetic orange glow that basks the Oobleck’s stage before The Antlers’ arrival could not be more apt. As listeners, we’ve been informed by many a band that America is a country in which the sun ceases to sleep, a constant presence that illuminates each and every Stateside bikini-clad surfer girl and hippy dreamer. But, despite residing in New York, The Antlers have always done away with such artificial happiness, opting for brutal poetry that’s much more in keeping with our bleak rain-swept shores. Augmenting this maudlin sound on this year’s Familiars with a new collection of instruments, it’s the stately swell of brass that dominates tonight’s set.

The songs themselves, preoccupied by the harrowing realisation of mortality, creep up like the inescapable shadow of death. Opener Palace, which trumpets into view alongside calamitous cymbals, grows from slow-burner to head-thrasher in a matter of minutes, Peter Silberman’s delicate falsetto morphing into a high-pitched trill at its hectic climax. Hotel, another funereal Familiars dirge, benefits from similar shifts in tempo. Punchy instruments routinely check in and out as Silberman bemoans the loss of identity in an increasingly enraged, but still barely-audible, whisper.

With soul-searching continuing in spades on Parade and I Don’t Want Love, Silberman’s brooding melancholia is handily offset by lush, joyous musical arrangements. A recurring feature that’s best mapped out in the murky Jekyll and Hyde reflections of Doppelganger, there are times when the beauty of these ethereal sounds swallows Silberman’s voice altogether, the majestic sweep of the surrounding noise speaking more purely than even his close-to-the-bone words ever could.

Not to be outdone, Silberman, as the set draws to a close, manages to remain the most appealing thing about The Antlers. Eyes closed, he writhes along to the anguished finale of Putting The Dog To Sleep with much melodrama, a performer playing out his hardships in public view and averse to the pithy, art-disrupting task of audience interaction – his face may be expressionless throughout but it’s easy to see that his soul is being torn to pieces. By the end, it’s a burden of malaise and world-weariness that every teary-eyed onlooker has to shoulder. Existentialism has never sounded so good.

Words: Dan Owens

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