The Antlers’ 2009 release, Hospice, was a wildly ambitious concept album — a cripplingly poignant meditation on love, loss and pain. It existed as a singular, cohesive and utterly complete work in the sense that it was whole narrative, leaving no stone unturned and filling in all its gaps. Burst Apart, their most recent full-length, was a far more manic and fractured album, but still managed to both capture and display the sense of resigned desperation that has come to be the emotional watermark of the Brooklyn threesome. Though Burst Apart and Hospice are both inherently different and evoke very unique listening experiences, they do share one thing in common: they present The Antlers as storytellers — artists that exist somewhere outside of the world we inhabit.
Well, on the new EP, (Together), The Antlers are suddenly a part of this world and quite human. The result is pretty jarring; it’s an eight track long mixed bag of remixes, covers and collaborations that seems to be cutting room floor material arranged in no particular order. There is no common thread, no thematic continuity and no real obvious reason behind any decision-making. It’s an EP that is bound to raise the age-old philosophical question, “What is an EP for?”
And because there is no real definite answer to that question, this mishmash of a work is bound to disappoint, especially because we know that The Antlers are capable of producing such emotionally devastating music that you have to be careful who you recommend them to. But if one were to judge the hodge-podge that is (Together) on a scale of what it is trying to be — a hodge-podge — as opposed to what we want it to be or think it could be — Hospice or Burst Apart — then and only then is it possible to actually enjoy the merits of this EP.
On the cover of The xx’s “VCR,” Silberman and crew are somehow able to imbue a song that is, by nature, all restrained teenage sexuality, with an ethereal sadness. The track isn’t so much sonically transformed as it is matured by a few years. And the Neon Indian collaboration on “Rolled Together” is another subtle but successful choice, with Alan Palomo’s precarious synth making a previously understated track feel all encompassing and powerful. Then, of course, there is the sixteen-minute, haphazard, noise-jam with Bear in Heaven that seems to be giving us a sneak peak of a group of friends fucking around in a garage. These are the highlights of an EP that doesn’t really have many missteps.
The point is that this is a wildly safe play from a band that has a reputation for courageousness. (Together) didn’t have to see the light-of-day, but the Antlers seem to be saying, “why not?” Just because their history creates a certain expectation doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to record and release something just for kicks. If anything, they’ve earned enough creative cred to unload some disjointed, rambling jams they had lying around, slap the ol’ EP label on it and call it a day.