Full Disclaimer: Hospice is both a thorough and ambiguous narrative, written by The Antlers‘ frontman, Peter Silberman. A well-formed opinion of Hospice is predicated on a detailed understanding of this narrative, but due to the aforementioned ambiguity, understanding is predicated on personal interpretation. Thus, all impressions formed and presumptions taken are based on my reading (and probably my own experiences, which I subconsciously project). If your copy of Hospice is digital, I encourage you to print or read the liner notes to form your own impression.
Hospice refers to palliative care given to terminally ill patients. Essentially, it works to ready a patient for death. Hospice, the album, is a fictional narrative set in hospice care with two central characters: The Narrator (referred to as “I”) and The Patient (who seems to be his girlfriend). The story begins with the Narrator learning the Patient will die. The album’s time frame is a likely a few weeks or months until her inevitable death. The Narrator blames himself for her sickness, but most of all, for failing to comfort or alleviate her emotional pain. She is intensely resentful, yet he returns to her masochistically. “I wish that I had known in that first minute we met, the unpayable debt that I owed you,” Silberman sings on “Kettering”, a track whose intimacy is so vivid that we live vicariously through the pain. “I didn’t believe them when they told me there was no saving you.” Hospice is an album reminiscent of Spiritualized‘s “Songs in A&E”, with the references to death and the terminally ill, while hinting at qualities of Antony‘s melodrama. There are times when his voices remarks on Win Butler‘s token urgent and often teary yelps. (Though these comparisons are merely points-of-reference.)
Hospice is not easy-listening but is incredibly rewarding — a “grower” in every sense. My first impressions were not necessarily positive; the intensity was too heavy-handed and music too maudlin. However, after granting the album some patience, listening to it entirely through, and following the storyline, the musical nuances and literary developments were startlingly compelling. The way Silberman articulates and establishes the main characters and their relationship shows his craftsmanship. The Narrator is constantly contrite, though never having done wrong, to the Patient who refuses his advances. “In your dreams, I’m a criminal, horrible, sleeping around. While you’re awake, I’m impossible, constantly letting you down,” he sings chillingly on “Atrophy”. The blog-hit “Bear” culminates the album’s first half with Silberman admitting, “you’ll keep me in the waiting room, and all the while I’ll know we’re fucked, and not getting un-fucked soon.” There is a heart-wrenching futility in his voice. The story’s turning point comes during the lovely “Two, Or, I Would Have Saved Her If I Could” as he says, “[The Doctor] brought me out into the hall, and told me something that I didn’t know that I wanted to hear: That there was nothing I could do to save you, the choir’s gonna sing, and this thing is gonna kill you.” Admission is always the first step. From here, the album’s final songs soar. “Wake”, detailing the Patient’s funeral service, harbor’s the album’s most accomplished moment in the final stanza. Whether it’s the Narrator speaking, or being spoken to, the sentiment is The Narrator’s emotional liberation: “Don’t be scared to speak … don’t take that sharp abuse/ Some patients can’t be saved/ But that burden’s not on you.”
Hospice has been on repeat for me in the past week, and secured its place as one of the best albums of the year. It’s a romantic relationship gone wrong. It’s an implacable parent. It’s the sick patient who tears apart the family. Hospice is any or none of these things. Silberman is reticent to unveil the personal experience that inspired Hospice. However, he needs to add little context to the album because it is carried out with such literary proficiency. I truly hope listeners and critics don’t dismiss the album as merely an album about death; sure, its morose subject matter may be intense at times, but Silberman’s story is too intriguing for impatience. Besides, if you listen close enough, it’s as much about personal recovery and self-affirmation as it is dying.