Remember the days when instead of having just a few stand-out tracks, albums were decent as a whole or told some sort of continuous story? Ok. I was only born in 1986, so maybe I don’t actually remember those days, but I hear it was nice. With the advent of MP3 players and massive computer-based libraries, it’s easy to get music ADD. You’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, so you throw your music on shuffle… and then promptly change songs midway through because you’re desperate to hear what comes next in your 29 GB library. (1)
The fact is, many albums today just aren’t good enough to listen to all the way through in one sitting. But then there are albums like Hospice by The Antlers. This is the kind of album that begs to be listened to as a whole. The songs effortlessly flow together to create a single rich body that naturally crescendos and decrescendos as if it were inhaling and exhaling.
Another thing that sets Hospice apart is the story that subtly runs through it. Unlike albums like The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love or Duncan Sheik’s Whisper House, Hospice avoids being a straight-up story album or a rock opera. It is a delicate concept album that hinges on themes of sickness, mania, nightmares, suicide, and hospital machinery that somehow manages to avoid coming off as whiny or emo. The bleak story line slowly unfolds as the album progresses: a young nurse of sorts falls in love with an unresponsive out-patient and is haunted by imagined conversations and exchanges that never quite come to pass. The songs alternate in point of view between the care-giver and the patient. At times, the care-giver likens the condition of the patient to that of Sylvia Plath on the verge of suicide, begging her desperately to take her head out of the oven. Later in “Thirteen,” the tempo slows, and ‘Sylvia’ responds:
“Pull me out… pull me out… can’t you stop this all from happening? Close the doors and keep them out.
Dig me out… Oh, dig me out… Couldn’t you have kept this all from happening? Dig me out from under our house.” (2)
By the ‘Epilogue,’ the patient has died and the care-giver, unemployed, but the two are still united… at least through dreams:
“But you return to me at night, just when I think I may have fallen asleep. Your face is up against mine, and I’m too terrified to speak.”
Hospice came out Tuesday, August 18th. Their album release show took place Friday night in a sweltering and packed Mercury Lounge. You can download the show and listen to it in it’s entirety here.
(1) I’m not claiming that listening to music on shuffle doesn’t have its merits. Not at all.
(2) Before Sylvia Plath succeeded in killing herself by sticking her head in the oven, she took a number of pills and crawled under her parents’ house where she stayed, barely alive, for three days before they found her and pulled her out.