The Antlers‘ third record, and first as a full band – Hospice – gambled and won big with lyricist Peter Silberman’s terminal-patient metaphor for his own dying relationship at the time. Sharon Van Etten also made appearances on four tracks, and it’s become the album that, so far, has defined the band. Familiars tries to not only outdo that record, but expose Silberman’s dark side and, in doing so, defeat it.
Silberman doesn’t go with the album-length allegory this time, but still sprinkles smaller ones throughout. Most of the time, these pertain to some sort of embarrassing id he’s repressing, or flawed past. For instance, “Doppelganger” ascribes his past missteps to a a sort of evil twin “man in the mirror” – it’s well-put, but the goofy annunciation of “mirror” distracts. A better executed example comes on the pseudo-single “Hotel:”
While he mainly worries about his own issues, this constant focus on self-improvement and changing one’s behavior comes across as judgemental when it’s shifted towards someone else, such as on “Director:” [LISTEN]
However, this slowly shifts towards a shared attempt at betterment, then a realization that relentless reconstruction is futile, and finally “quiet” reservation to their “home.” The final two, aptly-named tracks “Surrender” [LISTEN] and “Refuge” [LISTEN] epitomize the transition:
After all of his confusion, remorse, guilt, and anger towards his past self, the final tracks’ positive twist focus more on “we” and most of the “we”/”he” references in earlier, negative tracks are just referencing his own dark side or haunted past. He is finally able to relax with this outside source – a partner. Not only does he flat out say this, but the lyrical tone re-emphasizes it as well.
While the album starts off with an objectively cheesy intro reminiscent of ’80s Christian power-ballads in the first half of “Palace,” [LISTEN] there’s a sweet mix of Sigur Ros-ian builds, Bon Iver atmospheric instrumentation, and surprisingly feminine vocals (like Bat for Lashes) that combine ever-so-sweetly afterwards. It’s a slow, pretty, and borderline depressing affair, with poignant single-word song titles that nearly spell out the whole narrative by themselves – a low-energy exorcism that ends with ultimate catharsis for Silberman. It takes a certain sentimental mood, but it succeeds.