Even if beloved cult indie band The Antlers had never returned to the music scene, their reputation would remain not just untarnished but scintillating. Peter Silberman’s dream pop outfit first found widespread acclaim with 2009’s “Hospice,” an operatic concept album filled with quietly devastating songs that soon became as iconic as the record’s firework-red cover art. The two albums that followed — the impossibly lush “Burst Apart” and the self-reflective “Familiars” — were met with equal praise, cementing the band’s legacy as a lyrical, soundscape-driven powerhouse. Bolstered by universal critical acclaim and adoration from loyal listeners, The Antlers seemed poised for a precipitous rise to indie fame.
However, the release of “Familiars” in 2014 was followed by seven years of silence, suggesting that The Antlers were content with retiring near the top. This assumption was countered by a sudden burst of activity from frontman Peter Silberman, who announced that The Antlers would be returning in 2021 with “Green to Gold.” While this news was met with excitement, the question of what kind of music the historically melancholy band would be making after nearly a decade-long hiatus was on everyone’s minds.
The answer is ephemeral music, songs as evanescent as a rainbow on a cloudy afternoon. Gone is the band’s achingly tender sense of loss, replaced by a surprisingly optimistic tone that imbues each track with a golden porchlight glow. Silberman’s signature falsetto is used not for whispery eulogies and the occasional mournful wail, but breezy refrains that seep easily into beds of sunny guitars. For those who latched onto The Antlers’ previous endeavors for their stormy, piercing themes, the utter lightness of this album might come as a massive shock — and not a welcome one.
However, “Green to Gold'' does still contain some shadows in the midst of all the sunshine. “Just One Sec” sees Silberman begging the listener to wait, to free him from himself in a muted chorus redolent of a hushed conversation at twilight. Though ostensibly summery, the album at times seems to be pushing against a wintry heaviness, bravely striving to preserve and enjoy every solitary moment of light lest it all disappear. There is a gentle sadness to all the pastoral beauty, best embodied by the single “Wheels Roll Home'' and its periodic lapses into a silence where the listener becomes painfully aware that all of this is only temporary.
That ephemeral nature, though fitting for such a peaceful record, sometimes allows songs to fade out before they can truly begin. The Antlers often take advantage of soundscapes that encompass the entire album, blending songs into a stream-of-consciousness blur without losing their sonic uniqueness or distinct perspectives. “Green to Gold” attempts this cohesiveness, but instead stagnates in arrangements that sound too similar or unsubstantial and flow unobstructed through one ear and out the other. The periodic orchestral flourishes are spaced too far apart to sustain anything sturdier than a soft morning melody; guitars create a fuzzy instrumental foundation, oscillating between straw-like folksiness and muted fireside strumming. Aside from the distinct layering of vocals and swaying chords in the excellent “Volunteer,” most of “Green to Gold” melts in on itself like the lazy hours of a long quiet afternoon in the countryside.
The Antlers seem to carve out and occupy a specific musical niche with every release, reinventing what the vaguely-defined indie genre can truly sound like. While “Green to Gold” is far from ambitious or even striking, it does follow the band’s legacy of novelty, however softly. There are few records that achieve such verdant ambience with so little pomp: the simple beauty of nature is expertly personified here, laid out like clean white linens on a clothing line. Silberman appears to have reached a sort of thematic nirvana with this album, stripping away the more frenzied synths and ominous brass of previous projects to give listeners something that feels homemade and homesick in equal measure. There are no heady metaphors and no sonic gimmicks. “Green to Gold” is the audio equivalent of a dandelion scattered by a summer wind — a brief, low-key spectacle as sweetly peaceful as it is fleetingly bittersweet.