As far as lyrics go, “Prove to me I’m not gonna die alone” is perhaps one of the most devastating and simple lines possible. “Putting the Dog to Sleep” is one of those songs that is infectious, but in the same way that the stomach flu is, meaning that once you catch, it, you’re going to feel every inch of it. The song plods along with a gentle sway, as Peter Silberman croons as well as any lounge singer from the bygone era from which his cadence first appeared.
When the Mountain Goats album Get Lonely was released, I found it hard to get into. It was my second Mountain Goats record, my first being the indispensable The Sunset Tree. Anyone who has ever been forced to hear me speak on the subject of The Sunset Tree knows that it is an album very dear to me, as it is an album that made me feel able to come to terms with my own father’s abuse. To come off an album like Hospice, one that accurately portrays the spectrum of human emotion as a whole, and be expected to make another that is just as earth-shattering and bone-chilling… well, that’s just not fair.
The comparisons are inescapable, and it really does feel unfair to the integrity of the record that it became. For one, Hospice was a record that sounded insular to the point where it could have just as easily been made by one man with a wealth of instruments in his attic, whereas Burst Apart never actually exudes that feeling. I feel, though, that I should be fair to the record and limit my comparisons from here on out.
It’s clear starting at about “Parentheses” that Burst Apart has a heavy heart, one that yearns to build its stories in a writhing thicket of somewhat synthetic beats and minor chords. The album has a slightly unhinged quality to it, one that manifests itself fairly often. Silberman combats the anguish he so clearly feels trying to pick up the pieces of his life by using the higher end of his vocal range, often crooning in an unearthly falsetto. If you focus in to the songs where he does this, it’s almost as if he’s trying so very hard to escape something, he’s hiding his own voice to get away. It’s an interesting trick, and it works out wonderfully. “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” bounds along with a sickly groove, which combined with the distant vocals leaves a sickly feeling, kind of like a Lifter Puller song where Craig Finn drank alone at home for a change, and wrote a song from that point-of-view.
The other half of the album that doesn’t feel as though it’s towering over you is relatively somber, and easy to get lost in. “French Exit practically bounces along with its staccato guitar rhythm and woozy vocals. His delicate wail is what makes The Antlers such a distinct band. It’s what makes a song like the aforementioned “Putting the Dog to Sleep” work so tremendously well, and makes the delicate repetition of “Rolled Together” work just as well. It feels almost impossible to argue that, any way you look at it, Silberman’s voice feels unique in some way, and his band complements it stunningly at every turn.
The Hospice comparisons will never cease. Radiohead will always have to live up to OK Computer and Kid A, and Sufjan Stevens will always have to live up to Illinois. It’s not a terrible way to make a living as a musician, always being compared to your earlier work. But, really, to compare Burst Apart to Hospice feels unfair. This record feels like the heart on his sleeve has been tucked back in his pocket, but it doesn’t change that the album is equally as powerful, and a worthy follow-up to such a profoundly moving work.