A slow descent into a blasted-out void as intimate as it is alienated, the introductory track of the Antlers’ self-released Hospice drops the listener into a sonic space somewhere near This Mortal Coil’s 1984 It’ll End in Tears (4AD). The reference point is a rich one. Jeff Buckley was given to covering It’ll End in Tears‘ opening track, the Alex Chilton composition "Kangaroo," and when Antlers’ singer-songwriter Peter Silberman’s voice enters the scene on Hospice‘s next song, "Kettering," his fallen choir-boy high tenor is a polite echo of the drowned romantic Buckley, whose equally fatalistic father Tim wrote another one of It’ll End in Tears‘ signature tracks. More blatantly, Hospice is an album all about this mortal coil, a recording that as the title makes clear lives near or within a threshold into death, alternately charting out or clawing at broken bonds.
Not exactly a light listening experience, whicb might be why Hospice is being greeted as everything from a work of genius (an NPR critic not only deemed it the best album so far this year, but better than anything from 2008) to an overrated angst fest (in the ever-reactive blogosphere, crankier reviewers have envisioned it as backdrop music for Scrubs and deemed it the musical form of Cymbalta). Another aspect of Hospice that triggers strong reactions is its back story, a tale of the now 23-year-old Silberman’s extended creative isolation that’s an urban version of the rural tortured artistry yarn attached to Bon Iver’s acclaimed For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjauwar, 2008).
To escape the growing chatter, it helps to engage directly with the music, itself far from devoid of cultural signposts. In crafting a 10-song cycle about life and love and death, Silberman draws heavily from the real-life stories and legends of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes; one gets the impression that he uses them as a loose-fitting cover for the skeletal remains of his own recent brush with mortality. At this point, Plath is a clichéd symbol of suicidal poeticism and youthful valorizing of depression. (I have memories of a fellow Guardian editor singing "You don’t not do, you do not do" from "Lady Lazarus" in a mockery of her proper bell-like intonation during our Detroit days of being young.)
While Silberman’s invocation of Plath’s inconsolable rage and death-drive lacks humor, it isn’t stiff or overly worshipful. He makes her spirit breathe only to quarrel with it. On the anti-lullaby "Bear," animal imagery gets a bleakly comic twist missing from the heavy-handed Hughes’ favored bestial themes. The bottom line is that Silberman is a talented young singer-songwriter. Hospice is not only prodigious in its ambition, it is well-executed. The title of "Thirteen" reinvokes Chilton while the music’s glacial-yet-golden shimmer could be a missing early Slowdive track or an outtake from Gregg Araki’s 2004 film adaptation of Mysterious Skin. Like another "newgazer," Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Silberman places the widescreen blurring soundscapes of late-1980s shoegaze bands in the service of American Gothic narrative impulses. In a perverse way, his odes to fatal anorexics and séances for long-dead writers offer the promise of great things to come.
Afrobutt, Wonderbutt (Electric Minds) Humor is at play in these neo-disco tracks and their titles, which include "Urgent Workout Required," "Torro de Butt," "Morning Bump," "Cracks All Gone," and "Wunderbutt."
Johan Agebjörn featuring Lisa Barra, Mossebo (Lotuspike) Paging Vangelis: the songwriter and studio whiz behind Sally Shapiro goes new age.
Blackbelt Andersen, Blackbelt Andersen (Full Pupp) Prins Thomas preps us for his vanilla-sented Lindstrøm reunion with this one-man act from his fledgling label.
Lô Borges, Lô Borges and Nuvem Cigana (EMI Brasil) It took me too long to realize all my favorite tracks on 1972’s classic Clube de Esquina are written by Lô. The cover of Lô’s debut album is perfection, and I am completely in love with Nuvem Cigana’s "A força do vento," "Uma canção," "Viver viver," and O vento não me levou."
Serge Gainsbourg, histoire de melody nelson (Light in the Attic) An appreciation of the recent reissue rainfall of Gainsbourg soundtracks and concept song cyles is overdue. For now, this is one of the best.
The New Dawn, There’s a New Dawn (Jackpot) Jackpot indeed a lost ultra-collectible classic of ’60s Northwest garage rock is revived, much like Jesus.
Ofege, Try and Love (Academy) "It’s Not Easy" is kid soul at its finest, thanks especially to the singing of bandleader Melvin "Noks" Ukachi.
Arthur Russell, …The Sleeping Bag Sessions (Sleeping Bag/Traffic) Koala power! Russell used the narcoleptic furry clasper as the logo for his dance music label. This comp presents some rare treats. His collaborations with Nicky Siano as Felix are two of the best.
Stereo, Somewhere in the Night (Minimal Wave) This 1980s duo’s criss-cross sunglasses put Kanye’s venetian shades to shame. Minimal Wave delivers once again. (Huston)