The Antlers - "Burst Apart"
Release Date: May 10th, 2011
Label: Frenchkiss Records
For centuries, artists have obsessed over portraying love and heartbreak in their respective mediums. The gambit of presentation concerning these two themes runs from comical to metaphorical. The results of such artistic exploration can ultimately be cheesy, cliché, emotional, relatable, and occasionally transcendental. The commonality, no matter the result, is the inherent urge for humans to investigate their own connections with love and heartbreak through artistic expression. Love is hard to define, yet it has a great power to bring happiness, a sense of purpose, and at times anger. This anger comes in the form of lost love or heartbreak. Because love can’t be easily defined, the loss of love is even harder to explain in emotional terms. Art is the format in which the unexplainable can be recreated, bottled up, and articulated to others. Such is the case with Woody Allen’s "Annie Hall" (shown above). Even the ending quote/metaphor Allen uses to sum up love is filled with the unknown, yet everything he wants to say about love and relationships is summed up with the reference to needing “eggs”. To successfully avoid the most common presentations of these themes, the artist must approach the creation of their piece of art differently than all those who came before them. They must bare emotions/experiences and delve into the most personal areas of their lives. Be it film, painting, or music; full transparency is crucial to delivering truth. Representations of love and heartbreak can’t be faked. When they are, the audience/viewer/listener knows, because these themes are universal… they live deep inside each of us.
The Antlers have taken on such themes with their album “Burst Apart” and overwhelmingly succeed in defining the confusing, maddening, and downright frustratingly beautiful aspects of imperfect love and crippling heartbreak. As a critic, the way in which The Antlers succeeded at this task is easy to define, but the process in which they achieved such a goal must have been a lengthy and strenuous undertaking. “Burst Apart” sets itself apart in this highly practiced exploration for two reasons.
First, the lyrical content (the stories of the songs) are concerned with exploring the complexity and contradiction of love and heartbreak. How could something be both desired and repulsive at the same time? How could something that causes such euphoria eventually lead to such great emotional pain? The Antlers aren’t concerned with the smoother terrain of these themes. Instead, the band goes off the beaten path and decides to instead examine love’s lesser-explored contradictions. They take on the concept that love isn’t a fairytale; that it is complex and often times emotionally dangerous.
Secondly, the melodies on “Burst Apart” mimic this confusion and pull the listener back and forth by layering upbeat tones on top of down tempo sections. This creates transference from the artists’ emotional intent to the listeners’ experience. The juxtaposition of these two opposite components found in the melodies results in the very same reactions one experiences when in love or when heartbroken. Ultimately this is the unstable state of trying to make sense of the known, something which cannot be described. The melodies on “Burst Apart” are an exact representation of the album art for the record. The cover shows a cleared path through thick brush and sharp hanging branches. There are areas of darkness and specs of gold light that radiate from a clearing in the middle of the darkness. The melodies on “Burst Apart” play both in the darkness and the light, sometimes simultaneously. The layering of the two moods side by side creates an uncomfortable confusion, a battle between two feelings. The end result is an original listen; bold, daring music that doesn’t hold back any punches when it wants to transport the listener into both the happiest and most depressing moments of love and heartbreak.
The stories presented on each track could easily be placed in a spectacular book of poetry. The opening track, “I Don’t Want Love,” focuses on the contradictions and often times frustrating aspects of love – specifically, wanting and not wanting someone at the same time. “You wanna climb up the stairs/I wanna push you back down/But I let you inside/So you can push me around.” You want to love me, I don’t want to love you… I love you; you don’t want to love me. The track “Rolled Together” is one of my favorite pieces of writing about love I’ve ever read or heard. The whole song is two lines repeated over and over: “Rolled together with a burning paper heart/Pulled together but about to burst apart.” This visualization of love and its eventual loss is devastating: two people pulled together, but the source of their passion is also the source of their combustion, and the eventual destruction of their relationship. Every track is jam-packed with these kinds of thoughtful and original approaches to the themes of love and heartbreak. The last track, “Putting the Dog to Sleep,” ultimately displays the necessity that love has in giving life a purpose. The song opens with, “Prove to me I’m not going to die alone.” At the end of the song the band shifts to “Put your trust in me/I’m not gonna die alone./Put your trust in me/I’m not gonna die alone…I don’t think so…”
The Antlers are not concerned with answering the questions surrounding these heavily explored themes. The album ends with uncertainty, and never claims to offer the listener any solutions. The point with “Burst Apart” is that everyone has experienced love and heartbreak, and what The Antlers have done is to attack these familiar themes with honesty and harsh introspection. In doing so, they’ve created a piece of art that in forty-one minutes successfully mimics the real emotional ups and downs of a relationship.