Q&A With The Antlers

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You may have missed it, but Hospice by The Antlers is the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to the album of the year discussion (check out the review here). It’s a haunting and real exploration of death that should not be missed. While the album was self-released in March, the band recently rereleased (or “officially released”) the album on Frenchkiss Records last week. Additionally, the just released their first music video for the song “Two” (which can be seen below the jump).

I was able to get ahold of the group’s “multi-instrumentalist” (trumpet, keys, banjo, ect.) Darby Cicci (pictured right) and he was kind enough to take some time from his frantic schedule to answer a few queries.

How did you end up in The Antlers?

Darby: I was good friends with Justin, who used to play bass in the band, and he knew I played trumpet, so they asked me to join. I brought in the bowed banjo too cause trumpet doesn’t make sense all the time.

What was the writing process for Hospice? Did (lead singer/guitarist) Peter (Silberman) bring in lyrics and/or a melody to build upon? Was it more of each person coming up with the parts individually or a group/jam dynamic?

Peter sent me rough instrumental versions with usually just guitar and sampled piano, and said to just add whatever I wanted. The songs didn’t have vocals recorded yet, so I just guessed where the singing would be, worked on some trumpet and banjo sections, and hoped it would make sense when vocals were added. Peter wrote the songs and the whole thing was overdubbed one track at a time (even drums). We only used two cheap mics.

The idea for the theme of the album was built around the previously recorded “Slyvia,” correct? How did it develop from there (song to full album)?

The whole concept was pretty laid out before any of the songs were written, and the writing process was really concurrent with recording the album, so it was all just kinda made at once. The first track I worked on was “Kettering,” but that was just from him giving me four chords at rehearsal one day. I never even heard “Sylvia: An Introduction” until Hospice was almost done. Peter recorded that one on his own sometime after I gave him a Mellotron program.
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The Loved Ones (EP) – The Loved Ones

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The Loved Ones’ debut 2005 EP might be the best example of how music can be decent without being interesting. It’s the mean, in spectrum of albums. It’s not really noteworthy, but it’s not bad. It’s square in the middle.

The Loved Ones (EP) is generic punk and is sonically in the vein of an MxPx and Autopilot Off (though not nearly as good as anything those bands have done. Songs like “Candy Cane,” “100K,” and “Chicken” feature fairly simple instrumentals and lyrical themes that have been worn thin long ago. For example, it’d be a stretch to say “100K”‘s refrain of, “Burn the house down and break the spell,” hasn’t been said other ways hundreds of times by punk bands before.

“Massive” is an interesting track only because it sound EXACTLY like Hot Water Music. (To the point you may double check to see if you dozed off and are suddenly woke up listening to A Flight And A Crash.) It’s borderline dumbfounding. The bass, guitars, and drums are a carbon copy of a HWM tune and frontman Dave Hause channels Chuck Ragan perfectly. It’s no surprise then that “Massive” is the best track on the EP.
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Please Come Home – Dustin Kensrue

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This Dustin Kensrue fellow sure is a talented chap. As the frontman of Thrice he’s released some great albums that combined the heavy and the melodic flawlessly (most notably 2003’s The Artist in the Ambulance). So when Kensrue released his first solo album in 2007 fans were probably expecting something along the lines of Thrice unplugged. Instead, Please Come Home is a fantastic mix of folk, country, and blues that showcases Kensrue’s range as a singer songwriter.

The album gets off to a fast start with the double-time feel of “I Knew You Before.” With drums like a steadily steaming locomotive, the song chugs along over Kensrue’s wonderful little moving baseline guitar work. It is just about as good as a folk-rock song gets. It’s followed up by the beautiful “Pistol.” It’s one of the best love songs of the past couple years. Sporting a country porch feel, complete with harmonica, the song excels with it’s pacing and lyrics.

You’re the girl of my dreams,
and a pistol it seems, but you shoot me straight and true.
Time to lay down my fears,
Honey, I feel so safe around you.

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Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper – Julian Plenti

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Sometimes the easiest way to avoid your past is to change your identity.

With that in mind, Interpol frontman Paul Banks has adopted the moniker Julian Plenti to release his solo work. Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper is chock-full of sounds and ideas that could never see the light of day (or more aptly, the dark of night) on any of his other band’s albums.

The departure from anything sounding remotely Interpol-y is evident right out of the box on “Only If You Run.” It’s fairly clear that Banks was giddy to work with a more colorful palate of instrumentals. The drum beats are peppier, the guitar riffs have more variety, and Banks stretches his own voice farther. While it’s understandable to miss the hypnotic droning vocals he burst onto the scene with, it’s hard to fault a guy for actually singing. Besides, that vocal style wouldn’t work at all on Skyscraper.

All the different sounds work together to provide a varied palate. Julian Plenti is in full on rock mode on the album’s best track, “Games For Days.” The chorus has a big “wall of sound” feel as power chords are hammered with pseudo-punk downstroke flair. The clunky muted riff that begins “Fun That We Have,” is just that; fun. Additionally, Skyscraper feels distinctly relaxed throughout. On tracks like “No Chance Survival” and “Unwind,” which combines fuzzed out guitar and vibes, there’s an ease to Banks that almost makes him seem like a completely different chap.
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The Death of Les Paul

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Musical legend and pioneer Les Paul died on Thursday. Few people outside of the hardcore music community understand how monumental a life he lead. His innovations ARE popular music. Without them we’d be living in a world that sounds much different.

When people hear the name Les Paul odds are the word association that comes to mind is “guitar.” In 1939 he created one of the first solid-body electric guitars ever known as “the log” (pictured here). However, it did not initially take off. It took til 1950 before Gibson released the first Les Paul model guitar (after Rickenbacher and Fender had already released solid-body electrics). It may come as a suprise, but Paul himself did not have a great deal to do with designing the guitar that bares his name, he was more of the pitchman/face of the brand. The model went on to become one of the most iconic instruments in rock ‘n roll.

The advances he made to recording are actually more significant than his signature guitar. He was the first person to multitrack record music. During the recordings he also developed the process of overdubbing. It’s astounding to think of what music would be like without these innovations. As if that wasn’t enough, he is also credited as the first person to use phase and delay effects by manipulating the recordings. All these are techniques are used on every recording you’ve probably ever heard. They’re such commonplace that it’s hard to imagine music before them.
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Acoustics – Minus The Bear

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The idea of Minus the Bear going acoustic might be an odd idea considering the band’s reliance on ripping electric guitar riffs and delay pedals (specifically Line 6 DL4s). However, the appropriately titled Acoustics, shows that the band members’ musical talents are enough to carry them through the “unplugged” realm.

Undoubtedly, the band is better as an electric unit. “Throwin’ Shapes” suffers from a severe loss of pace as compared to the original. Likewise, “Burying Luck” lacks some driving forward force without amplification. The one previously unreleased song on the EP, “Guns & Ammo,” makes the point clear. It’s Minus the Bear’s first specifically acoustic song and it just feels slightly off. The music seems too light and contrasts with the more somber lyrics.

Some tunes don’t fall off nearly as much. “We Are Not A Football Team,” which is probably the Minus the Bear track best suited for acoustic transition, works perfectly due to the soft and breezy nature of the original. “Ice Monster” also succeeds thanks to a nice mix of percussion featuring shakers, tambourine, heavy claps, and some wood block.
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The Wolf – Andrew W.K.

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Andrew W.K.’s music has always gotten a rap as stupid music for stupid people (usually ones who are severely inebriated). However, the album that put him on the map, I Get Wet, manages to come off like caveman brilliance. It’s “dumb” in a very intelligently calculated way, and has a blissful non-stop energy fueled by some great primal rock instrumentals. On the other hand, his follow-up, 2003’s The Wolf, is essentially the embodiment of all the things that drew the initial criticism.

One problem is there seems to be nothing new for Andrew W.K. to write about. While it’s kitsch to have an album about partying hard, the sentiment wares the second time around. The Wolf is just retreads of better party songs and generic underdog anthems. It quite frankly sounds like the discarded b-sides from the I Get Wet recording session.
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