The Antlers’ “I Don’t Want Love” begins with the line You want to climb up the stairs/ I want to push you back down. This should be a pretty jarring introduction. To a certain extent, it is. The song’s one of the first gestures from the Brooklyn band’s new fourth album, but it hurtles a listener back toward the world of emotional wreckage the band created on it’s previous album, Hospice. Two years ago they made one of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching, ambitious and critically endeared albums in recent memory on their major label debut. That was their introduction to the part of the world. One must wonder, then, what the hell comes next?
The album they made to answer that question, Burst Apart, is now streaming at NPR. For a moment the intro to its first song, “I Don’t Want Love,” made me think they’d be revisiting Hospice‘s dark world, at least in feeling. But the song is able to finds its own momentum. The key difference feels obvious but still seems worth noting. The story behind Hospice—relationship metaphors literally being explored through a hospice worker and one of its terminally-ill residents—could at times overpower its individual songs. This wasn’t always a bad thing. But the collection of stories overshadowed the individual tales. There were some standout tracks (including the gorgeous “Two”), but they were often overlooked in the discussion of the album’s overall concept, and the constantly building tension which framed it.
However, in the case of “I Don’t Want To Love,” the song’s emotional weight is magnified because it’s not tied to a larger storyline. Without a complex whole-album concept, vocalist and guitarist Peter Silberman is still using his gifted narrative voice to portray chaotic situations in a manner that’s vulnerable and empathetic. The fact that by the end of the track I was no longer even thinking about Hospice and the world it places the listener in (a world I had spent much time living in in the past two years) seems as strong a testament as any toward the song and the direction the band has taken. Before, the band that was garnering some (occasionally lazy or questionable) Arcade Fire comparisons. Their new work feels more understated and really lets the lyrics and steady melody set a tone. The crescendos from before are largely gone, possibly because their tension already reached its tipping point and has now broken completely.