Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is the ‘Hospice’ the third album by The Antlers.
Concept albums are a risky business. Considered the highest form of musical story-telling to the elitists: to others, they are merely a showcase for an artist’s pretentiousness. At their best, they are simple and raw, with a punch-you-in-the-stomach quality that leaves you reeling after each listen.
Before ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ exploited our emotions with the greatest of forbidden love stories, The Antlers released their third album, ‘Hospice’ in the summer of 2009. Written by vocalist Peter Silberman during a period of social isolation, the narrative is grim, centering around a relationship with a terminally ill cancer patient.
Silberman has been reluctant to divulge explicit details regarding the meaning of the record, and the extent to which it is autobiographical.
Not that it matters – ‘Hospice’ is so cinematic in its delivery that it plays like a slideshow, and the thought of it being hypothetical seems preposterous.
Silberman has said on ‘Hospice’ that it “tells the story of a psychologically abusive relationship, some of which took place in a children’s cancer ward. The record sort of drifts in and out of the hospital, which is true of the relationship itself. To an extent it’s autobiographical, but I guess the best way to say it is that there’s a few ways to lose someone. It’s not always through death, even if it resembles death.”
With a backdrop ranging from glistening hotel rooms, to decrepit hospital wards, right to a bleak morgue, Silberman succeeds in stitching together stolen conversations with doctors, snapshots of nightmares and an emphasis on the imagery of Sylvia Plath, to create a world which revolves around death and the process of dying.
‘Hospice’ is emotionally destructive, leaning on every feeling within a person’s spectrum. Disillusionment and a dizzying sense of lost joy are explored on Bear, addressing the ‘what if?’ scenarios that encompass our every day lives, let alone those faced with an early death. The contrasting imagery – champagne, suitcases, hotel rooms, a life that could be – versus the grim glimpses of breaking bones and glass in Shiva and lead single Two, are, at best, startling – and, at worst, over-whelming.
Silberman’s fluttering falsetto adds the only gloss to the morbid swan songs. Used as an accent to the narrative, as opposed to the focal point of every track, he whimpers and wails on the unbearable Epilogue, mimicking the patient’s final breaths. On Sylvia, he roars defiantly in the face of loss and decay.
‘Hospice’s ability to explore the reality of the situation is harrowing. The feelings and the people who own them are tangible. In Two, we hear of angry divided families, exhausted staff and a patient brutalised by their disease, caught in the middle of the firestorm.
Depending on the individual’s interpretation of the album, the subject of the album could be a child or a young woman. Silberman’s character could be working in the hospital the subject is attending, or could have been in her life already. The layers of the story run deeper and deeper with every listen, throwing up questions as to how any one would cope in such a situation.
Admittedly, ‘Hospice’ is not the easiest of listens. However, there’s a reason why it is has featured on so many ‘best of lists’, and cemented itself as the stand-out concept album of the noughties. It does not hold your hand and walk you through an experience. ‘Hospice’ cries with you, and bleeds with you. ‘Hospice’ is unshakable in it’s delivery, and lingers long after the record stops playing.