Written for The Music Fix.
It would abandon all gig review etiquette to focus too much on the resemblance between a band’s output and that of its slightly better known contemporaries, but it’s hard to miss how neatly The Antlers sit within the recent indie landscape. Their clearly defined soundworld shares territory with the night-time atmospherics of The xx and the raw orchestration of Sigur Rós. On top of that, their past year corresponded to Bon Iver’s: it saw them follow up an intimate and personal debut album with a more expansive follow-up. On the Empire stage, their performance established them as a band with the potential to make a greater impact.
Having arrived, backlit, to a stage bedecked with bunches of white flowers, their opening songs ‘No Widows’ and ‘Atrophy’ emerged out of tonal guitar ambience, a style which developed into some noisy yet harmonious periods later in the set. It’s not only their instrumental textures that call Sigur Rós to mind. Head Antler Pete Silberman’s pure, often falsetto and always in tune singing exhibited both surprising power and perfect restraint, whether alone or alongside keyboardist Darby Cicci’s equally precise vocals. Filling the whole room, Silberman’s impassioned cries at the start of ‘Rolled Together’ somehow evoked both whale song and the most beautiful high tones of Jeff Buckley’s register.
The hollowness of their death-riddled debut, 2009’s Hospice, still loomed large over proceedings – when gaps appeared in the wall of sound, more often than not they revealed a disconcerting starkness of arrangement. During the tense ‘Parentheses’, the vocals almost became whispers atop a driving rhythmic base, whilst the chorus’ bursts of aggressive clean guitar provided welcome relief from the more pristine parts of the evening.
At less cohesive moments, the thinness of texture was unsatisfying, the rest of the band not quite matching up to the singularity of individual elements (chiefly Silberman’s voice). These occasions were rare, though, and the set confirmed that whilst The Antlers lack a character as complete or unique as some of their peers, some elements of their music bring a magic of their own to the stage.