Many artists have created albums around an idea, called “concept albums”. The Antlers, an indie-rock group from Brooklyn, New York, created an incredible concept album in 2009. Hospice, The Antlers’s third studio album, features the story of a husband and wife – but the wife is terminally ill with bone cancer. Their relationship slowly spirals downward throughout the album, as she begins to be overcome by her fears and the disease. Peter Silberman, the lead singer, has described the album as the story of an emotionally abusive relationship, as told via the analogy of a hospice worker and a terminally ill cancer patient.
The opening track, Prologue, is an instrumental song with wavering notes and haunting melodies. Kettering, the next track, shows off Silberman’s falsetto with lyrics about how Sylvia rejects any form of kindness, as shown through the lyrics, “When I was checking vitals, I suggested a smile/you didn’t talk for a while, you were freezing”. There is foreshadowing when Silberman sings, “I didn’t believe them when they told me there was no saving you” as the last line in the song. Sylvia is a song about Sylvia being uncooperative, even suicidal, and the hospice worker’s heartbreaking consent that allows her to continue abusing him. Atrophy, a song as well as the word for “the partial wasting away of the body”, discusses how the worker struggles with wanting to take away some of Sylvia’s pain as well as being unhealthily attached to her. Bear, the next song, is not wrapped into the hospice worker/Sylvia metaphor, but instead talks about Silberman and his girlfriend, and the pregnancy/abortion that further tore them apart. The abortion weakens their relationship, as evidenced in the line “when we get home, we’re bigger strangers than we ever were before”. Thirteen is the track that splits the first half from the darker half of the album, where the relationship begins to go even farther downhill and both relationships and people begin to die. Two, the next song, is about the emotionally abusive and destructive behaviors of both people involved in the relationship. In this song, the metaphorical doctor (in the “version” of Silberman and his girlfriend’s relationship, it is his voice of reason) telling him that there is no saving Sylvia and she will die soon. Shiva, the third to last song, describes the moment when Sylvia dies and the worker’s grief over it. The word “shiva” also comes from a Jewish tradition involving the mourning process of seven days, which keeps with the theme of her death. Wake also fits with the theme of “death”-involved words and mourning-words, and in the first half of the song, it’s the narrator speaking to a friend and apologizing, and in the second half, the narrator is speaking to himself (or anyone), according to Silberman. The final track, Epilogue, is the track that causes it to come full-circle. In the chorus, “You’re screaming/and cursing/and angry/and hurting me/and then smiling/and crying/apologizing” shows how (in the relationship meaning) Silberman’s girlfriend is trying to get back together after the breakup. It also discusses how he sees Sylvia (in the hospital metaphor) in his nightmares and he’s afraid.
I was first introduced to the Antlers by my older brother, a few years ago. His friends then proceeded to ask him why he would “ruin my life” by letting me listen to something as absolutely heartbreaking as Hospice. I do love the album, and it is clear to see that Silberman and his co-musicians are extremely talented, it is terribly sad.
I would rate this, overall, a 8/10.