Here in Australia the Antlers’ last album, 2009’s Hospice, was one of last decade’s most criminally underrated gems.
A concept album set in a children’s hospital, it was a morbid masterpiece that weighed the human spirit’s capacity for caring against a futile fight for life that, ultimately, ends badly.
Reportedly intended as an analogy for an emotionally abusive relationship, the melodic soundscapes, immense sadness and unerring emotional pull of its storyline made it arguably the best concept album since Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy.
And like that album, the strain of the subject matter matched the strain in its singer’s voice, taking cues from unfashionable emo as much as indie rock.
Burst Apart rewrites the rulebook. Heartache is replaced by icy cold distance on opener and standout I Don’t Want Love, and that detachment remains for much of the record, creating a chill-out soundtrack of sorts.
Littered with synths and electronica, what’s most remarkable is how well this reinvention works. Where Hospice was all transcendental ambition, Burst Apart is an exercise in restraint.
Even more epic numbers, like the glorious No Widows, never completely take off, leaving you craving more. On Hospice the protagonist suffered “phantom limbs”; on Burst Apart we get “a bad amputee with no phantom memory”.
The demons have been exorcised, while rejuvenation and recovery have granted this Brooklyn three-piece a new lease on life.