On their respective new albums, Au Revoir Simone and The Antlers—a pair of New York bands now on tour together—address coping with emotional upheaval in different, yet equally successful ways.
Au Revoir Simone, from Brooklyn, consists of three young women playing keyboards and drum machines. The 12 songs on their second full-length album, Still Night, Still Light, primarily explore subjects such as heartache, loss and melancholia.
But the whimsical synth-pop that the trio wraps around those songs is uplifting and often playful: These ladies truly know how to wring warmth and personality from electronics.
They also demonstrate well the discriminating use of delicate melody and atmospheric drones; the dichotomy is disarming and enchanting.
On the album Hospice, The Antlers tackle an altogether different subject—that of caring for a terminally ill patient who becomes abusive. The trio, also based in Brooklyn, uses dynamic arrangements, which range from orchestrated chamber pop to massive post-rock, to take the listener from harrowing confrontations to cathartic release.
Fans of Raymond Carver and Sylvia Plath, Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor will find much to appreciate in the music of The Antlers. The vocals of Peter Silberman have been favorably compared to those of Jeff Buckley and Antony Hegarty.
Au Revoir Simone and The Antlers will play at Plush on Tuesday, June 9, with singer-songwriter Adam Nixon rounding out the bill.
Silberman is The Antlers' 23-year-old singer, songwriter and, until recently, only member. He admitted in a recent phone interview that the story behind Hospice is partially autobiographical. Although he was reluctant to elaborate, he had no fear of talking in general about music.
"Hospice is a very personal record. It is very dense, and some of it is loosely based in reality," he said. "I think, thematically, it's very close to something I went through a few years ago. But there are elements in it that go outside of that."
Silberman said keeping the music's origins ambiguous makes it more user-friendly.
"Ultimately, I think it is best understood in whatever way the listener wants to connect to it. And however the listener decides to hear the songs on it, that's what it means to them. That's how I feel when I am listening to music."
Before making the new album, Silberman released three records as The Antlers; these were primarily folk-oriented material, recorded in his bedroom. When the time came to make Hospice, Silberman had a grander sound in mind and enlisted the help of several musicians, two of whom have become full-fledged members of the band.
Silberman, who used to play only guitar, has added synthesizers and keyboards to his résumé, while drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci—who plays bowed banjo and trumpet, but is willing to pick up anything—help him create a new and powerful sound that he referred to several times as "epic."
The Antlers released Hospice as a vinyl LP themselves in March, and it has since met with much critical acclaim. NPR's All Songs Considered has even named it the best album of 2009 so far. As a result of such attention, the album will be re-released, with increased distribution, in August by Frenchkiss Records.
Au Revoir Simone's Still Night, Still Light was self-released and has been in stores since May 19. Erika Forster, Heather D'Angelo and Annie Hart handle the business of their music through their label, Our Secret Record Company.
The trio previously released one full-length recording, The Bird of Music, in 2007, as well as an EP and a remix album. Forster said recently by phone that the band's sound has changed and deepened since they came together in 2003.
"I think that since that last album, we've been working on the arrangements. We used a lot of layers ... using a lot of cool synthesizers and keyboards."
To capture a sound that has evolved into a combination of gorgeous droning and arresting episodes of melody, Au Revoir Simone used such instruments as a Fender Rhodes piano and Casio keyboards, string ensemble synthesizers and a rare Moog.
"We didn't own all those keyboards," Forster noted. "We rented a lot of that stuff, although we do like to collect old keyboards."
In concert, Forster uses primarily uses Nord Electro and Roland Juno keyboards. Hart employs a Juno, as well as a Casio, and D'Angelo uses a Korg that reproduces "a lot of cool bass and organ-y sounds," Forster said.
For rhythm, "We use drumbeats from a collection of older drum machines. Most are from the '60s and '70s. We just experiment a lot and find the basic beat and rhythms, playing around with them to find a new beat or a better kick," Forster added.
Forster said she and her bandmates did not settle for being a keyboards-based group by default; such instrumentation was always their collective intention. Each was born in 1980 and was surrounded by piano and electric keyboards during formative years.
"(For) women of our generation, kids of the '80s—I mean, this is true for men as well, but especially girls—those were our toys. We all had these simple keyboards that we got for birthday and Christmas presents. It was pretty simple technology, but it grew and helped define our sound as we grew."