No one listening to The Antlers‘ new EP Undersea is going to be completely caught off guard by the still beauty of the record per se. After all, much of the band’s breakthrough, Hospice, found The Antlers mining measured, atmospheric territory, but that album’s gorgeous songwriting was countered with subversive stretches of noise and explosive buildups. The band’s last full length, Burst Apart, offered tracks that do seem like direct precursors to this EP like the delicate “Rolled Together” or “Tiptoe,” but of course the album as a whole was pretty anthemic. So while it’s no real surprise that they’re capable of making an entire EP of songs in this vein, it is somewhat surprising that they actually did make such an EP without any cathartic bursts thrown in the mix.
It’s this restraint that lends a casual grace to much of Undersea. Opener “Drift Dive” fades in as though we’ve stepped into something that’s already started and all of the players involved seem oblivious to the world outside of the song. Each element — from the mournful horn, effervescent slide guitar, and dreamy piano — are submerged in reverb and all work together as one floating entity. The EP continues to drift along from song to song for the duration of its 21+ minutes, skillfully maintaining the vibe throughout without ever wearing it out. The focal point rarely centers around one player, not even singer Peter Silberman. Instead, the band takes the dreamiest aspects of their music and weaves them together creating a consistently wistful atmosphere. The EP’s centerpiece, the expansive “Endless Ladder,” takes cues from The Verve and Spiritualized’s early work, making only gradual shifts along its eight and half minute course. The Antlers make great use of random sounds, noises and even talking, letting them sink into the mix, often times repeating over and over in the background, barely noticeable.
Lyrically speaking, it’s no surprise that on much of Undersea, things are bleak, but The Antlers do this sort of drama well; after all this is the band that centered their third album around a Hospice. There are fewer words here, leaving room for the spacious music. The lyrics that do surface typically involve refrains like “on an endless ladder climbing higher” or “a million pieces in a billion places” (which is a description of an immersed, dissolving planet). And although Silberman still oozes pain from his voice, the words are less important this time around and they typically sink right into the mix. When Silberman questions, “If I’m really here now/In a place and time/Does someone look just like me on the other side?” on “Endless Ladder,” it paradoxically feels like it was coaxed from a dream and he is that someone on the other side.
The press release for Undersea describes it as “an EP in length, but well beyond that in scope.” This kind of language raises more questions than answers. Are The Antlers pointing to a new direction or are they considering this the end result in and of itself? Only future recordings will be able to shed light on their future direction but the EP certainly works well as an end unto itself. Four fully fleshed out gems that take a single idea and stretch it in different directions, it’s hard to envision the premises of Undersea being extended into a full-length. Then again, given the consistent quality of this EP, it certainly doesn’t seem out of The Antlers’ grasp to pull it off.
Stream: The Antlers – “Drift Dive”