By Russell Warfield
One of the most amazing things about The Antlers is that they’re not consistently just referred to as ‘that cancer band’. And that they shook off that unsavoury fate with the quality of just one follow up album – an album of such quiet majesty as to blow off the cobwebs of a breakthrough album hinging upon, in slow and painstaking detail, an extended metaphor in the form of the tale of a cancer patient wasting away. Undersea severs the tie to that portion of their career completely – a subtle, but typically robust half hour slice of immersive repetition, haunting-yet-seductive falsetto and devastatingly cumulative drama.
On the face of it, the leap between Undersea and Burst Apart is not a great one, and indeed it’s true to say that its certainly a much closer cousin to its immediate predecessor than to Hospice – with a similarly restrained less-is-more approach to the arrangements, and a trusting in the gravitas of their delivery to produce the emotional bombast, rather than the aural switch-em-up of tracks like ‘Sylvia’. But there is progress here – an added maturity, and a willingness to explore new themes and motifs across a record’s running time. It’s called Undersea, and these tracks move with a lilt to befit its title, almost each texture literally bobbing along with at least one underpinning instrument swaying , rising and falling with the rhythm of soft waves. Opening track ‘Drift Drive’ (oh look: drift!) layers up off a swimming guitar line whose bending strings simulate the rocking of a boat, as soft horns sneak in to add to the cradling effect.
These songs manage to be simultaneously more tightly stuffed than the Burst Apart material, as well as sounding like the Antlers at their most restrained yet. ‘Endless Ladder’ is one of the Antlers longest pieces to date, and stretches onwards without abandoning their increasingly deepening love affair with mnemonic and hypnotic repetition. Under the guise of non-activity, the textures build devastatingly – the snare entering ‘Crest’ hitting the shore with a crack, but all the while difficult to pick out as an individual component of sound without making an effort to really dig your ear in. In all, it’s a gorgeous continuation of everything The Antlers are proving themselves hyper-capable of achieving: engrossing, dramatic, colourful music woven around a connective theme; music which allows plenty of glorious space in which to lose yourself utterly.