The Antlers – Hospice


Released in 2009, Hospice in the third studio album by the Brooklyn-based indie rock band, The Antlers. An album that has been described by the NME as “the saddest album of all time”. The album title alone – on the blood-red album cover featuring two hands,  yearning to hold each other for eternity – engulfs me with a sense of melancholy. I do believe that the saddest album of all time fits the album pretty well. 

The entire album, musically, could be boiled down to three songs. It takes more than one listen to be able to tell the songs apart, with the exception of a few more aggressive and fast-paced tracks. But if the songs feel the same it’s because grief feels all the same. The vocalist – Peter Silbermann -sounds like he’s broken at the core, gently whispering to himself in an abondoned parking lot, which makes the rare outburst of shouted lines feel like punch in the gut. The devastating lyrics, Silberman’s aching voice, backed by an atmospheric mixture of noise and texture and recurring melodies, makes it one of the most solid concept albums i’ve ever heard.

Track by Track Analysis

Hospice tells the tale of an unwieldy relationship between a hospice worker – whom I refer to as Peter, the lead singer of the band – and his dying patient, Sylvia. After an instrumental opening track comes Kettering. Peter Silberman’s low, somnambulant tone walks us through the first time Peter and Sylvia meet in a hospital room, backed by a music which is just the most painful combination of notes ever. Sylvia has tubes in her arms and morphine alarms are singing out of tune.

I wish that I had known in that first minute we met, the unpayable debt that I owed you


Peter sounds taken back, as though he is aware of the pain this story is going to bring. Sylvia is rather hostile – telling Peter that his voice makes her feel so alone and he better leaves. Yet Peter persists – despite being told that there’s no saving her, and despite sensing that it’s not going to end pretty, she wants to help the “freezing” girl.

But something kept me standing by that hospital bed
I should have quit, but instead, I took care of you
You made me sleep and uneven, and I didn’t believe them
When they told me that there was no saving you


Sylvia is – and sounds like – a troubled soul, and does not try to hide it. She pushes Peter back, but at the same time guilts him into staying with her.

Sylvia, get your head out of the oven
Go back to screaming and cursing
Remind me again how everyone betrayed you


Get your head out of the oven could be referencing Sylvia Ploth’s suicide, showing that Peter would rather for Sylvia to yell at him, than being depressed and suicidal. It’s also indicated that she gets physically violence towards Peter, while refusing to let him help her.

Let me do my job
Let me do my job

Sylvia, get your head out of the covers
Let me take your temperature
You can throw the thermometer right back at me
If that’s what you want to do, okay?


Peter sees her struggling and it breaks him.

As the album goes by and specially in the track Anthropy, we learn more about the abusive nature of their relationship. Sylvia is trying to get control of every aspect of Peter’s life.

You’ve been living a while in the front of my skull making orders
You’ve been writing me rules, shrinking maps and redrawing borders
I’ve been repeating your speeches, but the audience just doesn’t follow
Because I’m leaving out words, punctuation, and it sounds pretty hollow


we also learn that they’re now married, which makes Peter feel ever more bound to her.

With the bite of the teeth of that ring on my finger, I’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer
I’d happily take all those bullets inside you and put them inside of myself


The song contains the beautiful line, “I’d happily take all those bullets inside you and put them inside of myself”, which refers to the fact that Peter still feels willing to sacrifice himself if it could make Sylvia happier

Bear is about an abortion and opens with an uncanny nursery rhyme – Sylvia is pregnant, and sheand Peter are quick to decide they don’t want to have a child, we also learn that they’ve been isolated from their friends – another sign of an abusive relationship – and do not have a support system which means they only have to lean on each other when going through this rough path. 

There’s a bear inside your stomach
A cub’s been kicking from within
He’s loud, though without vocal cords
We’ll put an end to him

None of our friends will come, they dodge our calls
And they have for quite awhile now
It’s not a shock, you don’t seem to mind
And I just can’t see how


They are, Peter emphasize, not making this decision out of a fear of responsibility or financial issues, they are afraid of each other and Sylvia’s worsening conditions. This song ends with Peter admitting that they are now broken beyond repair.

Well we’re not scared of making caves
Or finding food for him to eat
We’re terrified of one another
And terrified of what that means

When we get home we’re bigger strangers
Than we’ve ever been before
You sit in front of snowy television
Suitcase on the floor


Thirteen is the only song being told from Sylvia’s point of view. And if you have imagined her as manipulative, narcissistic young women this is where you get a glimpse of her suffering for the first time: the whole song is her begging Peter to save her, as she is in denial of her current state and doesn’t want to see anyone, no doctors, no nurses, just peter.

Pull me out
Pull me out
Can’t you stop this all from happening?
Close the doors and keep them out


Two are of one the rare more fast paced songs and a very important song in my opinion. It tells the story of the day Peter is told by the doctors that Sylvia is going to die and beautifully portrays how Peter feels hearing that: as if the world is crushing around him.

To hear that there was nothing that I could do to save you
The choir’s gonna sing, and this thing is gonna kill you
Something in my throat made my next words shake
And something in the wires made the light-bulbs break
There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling
It opened up the scars that had just finished healing
It tore apart the canyon running down your femur
I thought that it was beautiful, it made me a believer


We also learn a little more about Sylvia, about her childhood with an abusive father and struggling with eating disorders that no one seemed to care about.

Your daddy was an asshole and he fucked you up
Built the gears in your head, now he greases them up
And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating
“Eighty-seven pounds!” and this all bears repeating


In the wake of knowing that she’s dying, Sylvia is acting out and Peter is trying to keep up with her. However this is the only point in the album where you can sense a bit of resentment in Peter’s voice, as he describes how he had to grab Sylvia’s ankles begging her to stay, and how he has stopped caring now.

It killed me to see you getting always rejected
But I didn’t mind the things you threw, the phones I deflected
I didn’t mind you blaming me for your mistakes
I just held you in the door-frame through all of the earthquakes
But you packed up your clothes in that bag every night
I would try to grab your ankles, what a pitiful sight
But after over a year, I stopped trying to stop you from stomping out that door
Coming back like you always do


Perhaps unconsciously – but Peter is also admitting that his actions might have had the exact opposite of protecting Sylvia, as Contrary to popular belief, doorways are not the safest place to be during an earthquake.

Shiva describes when Sylvia dies, starting with the hauntings lines.

Suddenly every machine stopped at once
And the monitors beeped the last time
Hundreds of thousands of hospital beds
And all of them empty but mine


The song also contains multiple indication of how he sees himself in Sylvia’s place: the roles are now reversed. I wonder, is it because of the emotional damages he has had to endure? Or is he becoming void of himself?

You checked yourself out when you put me to bed
And tore that old band off your wrist
But you came back to see me for a minute or less
And left me your ring in my fist


My interpretation is that their lives had become tangled together in a way that Peter doesn’t recognize himself anymore. It was all about Sylvia when she was alive and now that she’s gone, it’s still all about Sylvia. The trauma might very well reproduce itself in the rest of Peter’s life – he acknowledges that now, and feels crushed by this horror beyond grasping.

My hair started growing, my face became yours
My femur was breaking in half
The sensation was scissors and too much to scream
So instead, I just started to laugh


 Wake is one of my favorite songs on the album. Peter’s voice is much calmer in this song, like how you’d feel after a good cry or a panic attack. A bit numb, but also relieved. He is trying to face Sylvia’s death and his life without her. There are lots of small but achingly hard things you need to do when someones gone. Even picking up the dirty clothes seems like a task beyond his abilities. It’s also a subtle reference to the song Sylvia, where Peter begs Sylvia to let him do his job. Well he failed. And someone has to pick up the pieces.

With the door closed, shades drawn, the world shrinks
Let’s open up those blinds
But someone has to sweep the floor
Pick up her dirty clothes
That job’s not mine


Reflecting on what has happened, Peter also tries to explain what he’s been through, and why he stayed.

Well you can come inside
Unlock the door, take off your shoes
But this might take all night
To explain to you I would have walked out those sliding doors
But the timing never seemed right


 There comes a glimpse of hope in the end of the song, suggesting that peter is willing to open up.

I want to bust down the door
If you’re willing to forgive
I’ve got the keys, I’m letting people in


The album ends with Epilogue, which has the same creepy nursery music vibe. It ends the story with Peter’s reflection on the past. We learn that some time has passed, has been laid off from his job as a hospice worker, but his dreams are still haunted by Sylvia.

In a nightmare, I am falling from the ceiling into bed beside you
You’re asleep, I’m screaming, shoving you to try to wake you up
And like before, you’ve got no interest in the life you live when you’re awake
Your dreams still follow storylines like fictions you would make

You’re screaming
And cursing
And angry
And hurting me
And then smiling
And crying


The circle of abuse continues in his nightmares

It’s.. not a happy ending.

Why am I crying?

Humans like to judge, it makes us feel better about ourselves to take the higher ground and generally, feel smarter than everyone else. I am guilty of that too, I like passing judgements. Hospice cuts so deep for me because I can’t blame anyone.  It’s usually suffering that lies beneath our most destructive behavior and Sylvia has suffered a lot. As a kid, and then as a young adult fighting with bone cancer. Her short painful life does not justify her hurting and abusing other people, of course, but I can’t in good conscience claim that I could have handled the situation with more grace than her. There is no salvation for Sylvia. No redemption. She didn’t have time for that. It’s a gray situation where I find myself sympathizing with both characters. And gray situations are always uncomfortable.

The Australian singer and songwriter Nick Cave says “ the common agent that binds us all together is loss” and this, in my opinion, is what the album is about. Feeling the impending doom of loss, facing it, being consumed by it. It resonates with many people, me included, because it deals with grief and loss in the rawest form. The loss of a child, the loss of a life, the loss of a loved one. A love doomed to end in sadness because it was between a very fragile and vulnerable young woman who knew nothing but pain in her very short life and a young man with a savior complex. We collect countless losses through our lifetime, Nick Cave writes, and Hospice story reminds me of mine. Of everything that just couldn’t be saved, of myself reaching for something beyond reach. The loss of a friend. The loss of a family member. The loss of a dream – or was it an illusion?. Sometimes I’m Sylvia, taking out my pain on those who love me, waiting for them to save me. And sometimes I’m Peter, desperately wanting to make things right, consumed and paralyzed by guilt.

I mentioned that wake is my favorite song of the album and it also contains one of the most important lines and messages of the whole piece. Towards the end of song, Peter whispers to himself:

Don’t be scared to speak
Don’t speak with someone’s tooth
Don’t bargain when you’re weak
Don’t take that sharp abuse
Some patients can’t be saved
But that burden’s not on you


I think you could just replace patient with people.

And then this line echoes, over and overs as the music reaches its peak:

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that
Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that
Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that
Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that
Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that
Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that
Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that
Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that


And that’s a powerful line, this. I wonder who’s he talking to. Is he talking to himself, freeing himself from the crippling guilt? Is he talking to Sylvia’s ghost? Does he want to tell her that she didnt deserve to live this short, painful life?

But to be honest, sometimes, when I’m at my lowest point and in my darkes night, I like to listen to this song and think “he’s talking to me”.

Check the Antlers out

Official Website



Kettering – Live In London