When I listen to Antlerand’s debut album Branches, I almost feel as if I am missing something. Not because the music (which is atmospheric, triumphant, and somewhat sombre all at the same time) is lacking anything in the way of sophistication, but because their live shows are more involved than most bands. Lead singer Chris Larson creates video art to accompany each of the band’s performances. The rich electronic ambiance that comprises Antlerand’s sound combined with Larson’s projected art must produce a memorable experience indeed. Having never seen the band perform live, I can only imagine.
Acoustic guitar and piano serve as the backbone for most of the tracks on Branches. Plenty of electronic flourishes add to the depth of sound and lovelorn themes. Larson’s lyrics are a warning to those struck dumb by Cupid’s wayward arrows. Caution in the realm of love and relationships emerges as a theme early on. On “Now It’s A Year,” a driving piano sets the pace while psyched-out guitar riffs laden with effects follow closely behind. “When loving becomes tempting death/ When all this sounds like all the rest,” Larson sings with accompaniment from Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss as he quickly sets the album’s tone.
A gentle keyboard and acoustic picking on “We Know Better” makes for one of the album’s prettier songs. “And we would like to think it’s love/ But we know better than that,” sung as a male/female duet is rather stark in its simplicity. The male/female vocals that appear in several songs work on a level similar to that of Ben Gibbard’s collaboration with Jenny Lewis for The Postal Service’s album Give Up. The electronic element of Branches also recalls some of the more memorable moments from Give Up. An inevitable comparison to fellow Portland band The Helio Sequence seems appropriate at this point as well, with their similarly electronic pop compositions.
Larson and his bandmates seem to have an unlimited variety of instruments at their disposal. “On Their Screen” opens with simple arpeggiation and echoing piano while an unassuming banjo plucks along in the background before giving way to a surprise horn ensemble. The layering of instrumentation never sounds cluttered, but meticulously arranged so as to be complimentary.
The more I listened to the album, the more it appeared to unfold as a cohesive whole. Extended intros on many of the songs, which I became impatient with at first, began to take shape and eventually build to extravagant crescendos. Branches is audacious enough to recall Radiohead’s own electronic experimentation that began with OK Computer and fully emerged with Kid A. It has the sort of exuberance to stand tall among its electronic-influenced predecessors while at the same time giving them the proper homage they deserve.