The Antlers releasing an album in the waning days of a global pandemic falls somewhere between way too on-the-nose and poetry writing itself. From their 2009 debut, Hospice, through 2014’s Familiars, The Antlers have built mythology and a near-perfect catalog centered on confronting mortality and grief. In the seven years since Familiars, Antlers leader Peter Silberman has had to contend with tinnitus-related hearing loss and lesions on his vocal cords, both of which forced him to consider quitting music entirely. It’s hard to imagine a band better equipped to make an album to meet this moment, and they do just that–but from the most unexpected of angles.
The Antlers, you see, have delivered a serene, hopeful and, yes, even happy album with Green to Gold.
Silberman’s path from haunted to hopeful is charted across the 10 songs he describes as “culled from conversations with my friends and my partner.” Gone are the elaborate story structures that Silberman expertly paired with the fragile and textured arrangements on the previous Antlers records. Instead, we find songs like “Solstice,” where his falsetto gently glides over layers of piano, plucked guitar, brushed snare and strings as he pulls childhood memories from long summer days spent “river-walking tough, like the stones don’t hurt.” “Wheels Roll Home” celebrates the anticipation of reuniting with a loved one over a sparse, swaying arrangement so precise you can all but see the headlights coming up the driveway.
Silberman has recently spoken about the time prior to writing these songs where he had to pull back from music due to his health. Starting a new relationship and slowing down his lifestyle, he found himself “building a more grounded life where art wasn’t the sole purpose.” This change in perspective informs virtually every creative choice on Green to Gold. His earthy directness helps him avoid the sentimentality that usually bogs down most band gets back to what really matters albums.
“Just One Sec” is a love song about the hard work of letting ourselves and our partners change over time. “Could you clear my cache, momentarily? For just one sec, free me from me,” he sings. Later on in the album, Silberman explores how while we struggle with change, nature makes it look easy. The title track describes seasonal changes as “unrelenting heat,” giving way to bare branches and frost and back again, before, “just like that, summer’s on the outs.” There’s no attempt to map to a story or metaphor, but you just know it’s there. The restraint required to not make it deeply personal makes it even more deeply personal. It’s a songwriting masterstroke. And what’s more, it’s just unrelentingly pleasant to listen to. Or as Silberman puts it, “I set out to make Sunday morning music.”
Sunday morning music. That’s why this album meets this moment so perfectly. People use Sundays to renew themselves and start again in all kinds of ways. After an extended global tragedy where it just seemed like there was nothing after the dark other than more darkness, The Antlers–of all bands–challenge us to imagine something else. As we take our first tentative steps into a post-COVID world, it’s a time to look back, look inward, and eventually look forward. Green to Gold is the sound of slowing down to focus on not merely surviving, but actually living.
Follow Skott Bennett at Twitter.com/skottbennett.