A few things happen when you're drowning -- your heart rate slows by about 50%, blood flow to the extremities decreases to prioritize flow to vital organs, support is delivered to the diaphragm to prevent lung collapse, and the body actually appears to calm as it nears a blackout. On Undersea -- which lead singer Peter Silberman described as "an EP in length, but well beyond that in scope -- The Antlers create the musical embodiment of drowning, and I mean that in the best way possible. The four song comedown that makes up Undersea is gurgling, distanced, just-audible noise -- reminiscent of hearing a song while underwater -- that is also extremely immediate and weighty. It's as if you're in some aquatic dream where there's just enough room to breathe.
All arguments over the value of this experiment aside, The Antlers succeed exhaustively in creating this atmosphere. Not that we didn't know they were capable of this -- both in terms of concept and execution. Hospice was an undeniably serious and extensive narrative about the life of a cancer-stricken hospital patient that managed to be feeling without being at all insensitive. Drowning, or at least some underwater experience, seems like a real step down in difficulty in comparison. And musically, The Antlers' work on that album and its follow-up Burst Apart proved that they were truly skilled at producing slow-burning, airy tracks (the song "Hounds" most readily comes to mind). Which is what these four songs are -- starting with "Drift Dive," Undersea is full-on denouement, cool-down from a nonexistent climax. Horns swell at a glacial pace, percussion echoes, Portishead-evoking bass lines drip breezily. All of this is the perfect backdrop for Silberman's falsetto groan, which allows him to be understated, but also impulsively expansive when necessary.
Though some of Undersea (and the project itself, really) seems too deliberately existential, it's still an undeniably gorgeous and entrancing snippet of music. This EP proves that The Antlers' 2011 effort, Together, was an unfortunate bump in the road; that their previous two albums spoke better on their impressive ability. It takes a group that is completely in control to get this much out of four songs and honestly, I've never been so happy to feel like I'm drowning.