Review: “In the Attic of the Universe”

The Antlers' sophomore release is a lo-fi classic worth revisiting

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The Antlers perform live at Fun Fun Fun Fest (Photo by A Horse With No Name Photography via Flickr)

Colter Adams, Managing Editor

In the midst of the current semi-apocalypse, there’s a thought experiment that gives me just a little bit of joy. Lying in bed at 3:00 am, I close my eyes and imagine that, when all that is left of human civilization is fading ruins on a smoldering rock, someone is in charge of sorting through our junk.

Pinching its nose through clouds of smog and carbon emissions, our extraterrestrial visitor will search the planet for worthwhile memorabilia and memories of a better time. Like Douglas Adams, I doubt much about our culture, technology, or society will seem worth salvaging to an advanced race from across the Galaxy. However, on the off-chance that our alien friend stumbles into a rare vinyl store, I’m sure “In the Attic of the Universe” would give it pause.

In 26 short minutes, Peter Silberman’s masterful sophomore effort makes me proud to be a human. It is an anthem honoring all the vulnerability, distractions, obsessions, and above all, the sense of awe and wonder, that drive us, tragically, in a thousand wrong directions. Incredibly, Peter Silberman tells this story sonically as much as lyrically. From his bedroom. The otherworldly soundtrack to his musings, anchored by acoustic guitars and pianos, is stunning in its juxtaposed fragility and expansiveness. Soaring and crashing drums emerge from ambient synth lines like professions of love, or exclamations of joy. Unpredictable but inevitable, and above all deeply human. Electric guitars burst onto tracks like “Look!” and “Stairs to the Attic” poorly timed- but all the same overpowering- surges of adrenaline that give the album an honest pulse. Frantic falsettos bolstered by fast-tempo stripped-down rhythms on “In the Attic” and “The Universe is Going to Catch You” provide a comedic sense of melodrama. Meanwhile, Silberman’s sparse but focused lyrics tie his soaring, energetic instrumentation to reality.

Take the beautifully direct verse- “And the arms of the Universe / kept you from falling / But after that happened / Those arms did not come back.” Or Silberman’s Icarus-like description of climbing upwards until finally, he realizes his personal insignificance on “Stairs to the Attic.” While his song titles suggest themes of childlike innocence, his words instead depict tragedy, with “The Universe” portrayed as humanity’s adversary. As a result, “In the Attic of the Universe” is both celebratory and cynical- and therefore just the early 2000s LP worth reviving in these trying times.

Silberman’s best effort will not rewrite humanity’s footnote in the Hitchhiker’s Guide. However, by the end of the album, an otherworldly visitor will not help but feel attached to the brilliant flash of joy and pain that was our species’ brief, restless existence.