The Antlers, “Green to Gold”

The Antlers
Green to Gold
ANTI-
7/10

It’s been seven years since Brooklyn duo The Antlers released their last reposed indie-rock album, Familiars. They shake the scales from their eyes on Green to Gold, a lucent sixth album that unfurls its melodic powers slowly in front of you like a flower craning toward the morning sun, weighed down with dew.

The balmy and ambient “Strawflower” opens the record with the chatty thrum of cicadas and a persistent percussive bed for the lead guitar and piano exchanges. The hushed strummer “Wheels Roll Home” cracks open the blinds on the record further with a warm relationship drama dappled by a bass clarinet and brushed, heartbeat-like percussion. The track is an early highlight and encapsulates that particular sense of pining after a long physical or emotional journey.

All songs are still written by the consistent pair of Peter Silberman and Michael Lerner. Vocals, guitar, bass, pedal steel, piano, and organ are handled by Silberman and percussion is firmly in Lerner’s wheelhouse. Instead of each track being contained within claustrophobic sonic environments like houses and hospitals (apt places for a band named after The Microphones’ song “Antlers”), the new album includes nature field recordings from New Paltz and Katonah, NY, Otis, MA, and Luqillo, Puerto Rico. It’s no surprise in early press mentions of the album that Silberman noted that Green to Gold is “the first album I’ve made that has no eeriness in it. I set out to make Sunday morning music.”

“Eeriness” previously was a musical security blanket to embrace for the group since The Antlers transformed from a solo project to a trio for a time during 2009’s third self-released record, Hospice. The confessional record sounded like an apocalyptic breakup call. The Antlers are now pruned back to a duo and yet the instrumentation has stayed just as widescreen beyond the early experiments with indie-electronic and chamber pop for Burst Apart and the Undersea EP. The invited session players layer in bass clarinet, viola, banjo, slide guitar, flute, clarinet, and french horn, which all help fill the empty space where electronic equipment dominated on the last two records.

The banjo-accented “Solstice” is dipped in a flaxen production as Silberman whispers in an angelic falsetto about a summer scene: “Me without my shoes / You without your shirt / River-walking tough / Like the stones don’t hurt.” The slipstream of memories on the track flashback to childhood summers, but recollected through the darker prism of adulthood.

“Solstice” is one of the high watermarks from a record bursting with songs that are quietly stunning. In a similar way, the strolling shuffle of “It Is What It Is” and “Stubborn Man” also wrestle with the realization that the human spirit is often an intractable force holding back change at all costs, and letting go of the fear of transitions is usually a slow release instead of a quick drop into uncertainty.

Green to Gold ultimately plays out like a slow realization that it’s an album version of Dandelion Wine. In that Ray Bradbury novel, dandelion wine is a rich concoction mixed by the protagonist’s grandfather, and is a symbol for packing all of the joys of summer into one elixir. The Antlers’ latest embraces the changing seasons and the natural inevitability of transitions, and it is itself an elegant musical metamorphosis for a group that seemed crystallized within its mid-’00s indie-rock styles. Their new idyllic environment is a freeing one for the group. On the seven-minute title track, Silberman sings the emotional thesis for the record as each step changes the natural world around him: “And just like that / Summer’s on the outs / Cicadas swim around the house / Crickets clicking down the block / While we are on an early morning walk / Green to gold / Going green to gold.” The colors change just like the human spirit.

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