Submerging into the depths of past sorrows and loves had become second-nature for the Brooklyn trio after releasing 2009’s Hospice, the much-debated tale of an emotionally abusive relationship under the guise of a hospice attendant and a terminally-ill patient. Their debut was followed by something slightly less depressing, 2011’s Burst Apart, an album concerned with haunting dreams and a fear of moving on. With that distinction, Undersea transitions from its extremely depressing predecessors to a more stylized effort, contradicting its namesake by “rising up,” in a sense. Frontman Peter Silberman uses his voice less to tell a story, and more to provide a feeling, creating an organic atmosphere that penetrates boundaries that aren’t usually associated with EPs. It’s this freedom that not only makes Undersea an exciting turn for the band, but complements their staggeringly impressive catalogue.
Crafted for a headphone listen, the oft-acute precision of instruments through the dense atmosphere of the release spins out of orbit. “Drift Drive” summons imagery of that twilight sensation between consciousness and dreaming, stretching onwards as you fall in and out, “swimming” within the purgatory instead of actually moving. The album then launches into a colossal ballad, “Endless Ladder”, which details the journey that is trying to overcome the pitfalls of heartache, inching closer to the surface, but never quite making it out. It’s what makes the following track, “Crest”, a Jeff Buckley- meets-Portishead tune, with its trip-hop and graceful oceanic falsetto so uplifting, gaining more distance between Silberman’s fears and dreams. Undersea ends with “Zelda”, where he actually enters his own dream and finds himself with his lover, stuck between two different endings, one of fear and one of recovery. It’s a recurring theme across the EP: the inability to conclude, but coming closer to resolve.
The Antlers have cemented their critically acclaimed, albeit young, career by continually making art-rock that pushes the boundaries further than their peers. While only an EP, Undersea holds the potential to be a catalyst to not only improve their status, but surpass their contemporaries. With their inherent skill of creating perfect atmospheres without losing the fluid motion of each track, the EP holds together better than anything they have released thus far. EPs are usually reserved as a vehicle for singles, only giving a few more songs to accent the centerpiece, but in the rarest of cases, they make definitive statements that can outshine their full-length counterparts. You will be hard-pressed to find something as stark and eloquent as Undersea released this year.