In 2009, Brooklyn trio the Antlers released Hospice, a sobering concept album equating a decaying relationship with terminal illness. It was a quiet, intelligent record constructed from orchestral elements and frontman Peter Silberman's bone-tingling falsetto. Moreover, it cemented the arrival of the bedroom-pop genre in New York and beyond, pushing the Antlers to the fore.
"I think my music is very much informed by how I was raised," says Silberman, who grew up about an hour north of the city. "My father taught me guitar when I was about 6, and it's been my obsession ever since." With a self-described "Venn diagram" for parents—a musician father and a writer for a mother—Silberman focused on the middle ground. That crossover would eventually affect the Antlers, known for pairing metaphor-rich lyrics with skilled and austere chamber pop.
Silberman started the project when he was just 19. During a prolific stretch in the mid-aughts, he released two albums and a pair of EPs of mostly solo material. By Hospice, the Antlers included Silberman, drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci. The trio persists today, with touring help from Portland horn player and composer Kelly Pratt.
Listening to its two most recent full-lengths, 2011âs Burst Apart and the just-released Familiars, itâs hard to imagine the Antlers as anything other than a three-pronged animal. Thereâs a triangulation of sound Silberman dubs âmagical.â Much the way literature benefits from the rule of three, so too does music, especially when your subject matter paints in broad strokes but comes from a deeply personal place. In âSurrender,â from Familiars, Silberman insists, âWe have to make our history less commanding,â something easier said than done, let alone done by yourself. But letting go of rearview misconceptions is a lot easier with the help of trusted bandmates. And it sounds a lot better when itâs set to shuffling drums, sleepy brass and guitar, and Silbermanâs soft reassurance.
And while the Antlers have let a greater audience in, its craft remains homespun. Silberman and company have self-produced every album, maintaining that sheltered, comforting, bedroom-born sound. Many have labeled it "sad music" and nothing more, but the band has grown well beyond solo introspection.
"Understandably, a lot of people mistake emotionality for melancholy or sadness," Silberman says. "There's happiness in sadness and everything in between, and we're trying to show that."
The Antlers play at 4:25 pm Aug. 17. Tickets and additional information at musicfestnw.com.