Antelope – Reflector

Antelope
Reflector

Dischord’s Antelope makes stripped down art-rock that makes bands like Shoplifting and Ratatat sound like the London Philharmonic. The beats rarely vary within a song and sometimes get shared between songs. A cymbal crash and an extra snare hit pass for drum fills. The guitar melodies consist of simple patterns of notes. The singing alternates between forceful and laid back, owing to the fact that the members of Antelope share time at the mic. Reflector sounds simple.

Odd things happen when you listen to an album like this. By paring things down so far, Antelope makes you pay attention to the little details. “Contraction” has a one-note bassline that hits only when the bass drum hits and the drums don’t change. The guitar line has a kind of Mexican feel to it. “Dead Eye” doesn’t have any guitar — just bass, drums, and vocals. Most of the songs have just verse and chorus with no additional ornamentation. So with not much to go on, you pick up on little things: a guitar note just mis-timed (as on “Concentration”), the way a downbeat can sound like an upbeat (“Mirroring”), the way a premature lyric can change the rhythm of the song for a verse or two (“Justin Jesus”).

“Fire on the beach / Water in the air / A synonym / An antonym / Another word for fire / A fisherman” — these lyrics, from “Justin Jesus,” could be from an early Talking Heads album. Intentionally oblique but with enough potential that you could probably arrange them in some way to create your own narrative.

The catchier numbers make you wonder how another band would have handled the same material. Power chords? A drum fill here and there? Some kind of extended bridge? All of these have been dispensed with. There’s nothing to distract you from the core of what’s being conveyed. This is skeletal music. In fact, it would be more interesting to hear how Antelope would apply its reductionist philosophy to someone else’s music.

The best songs — “Reflector,” “Mirroring,” “The Demon” — really stick with you. It’s funny to think that Dischord made its mark early on by issuing the fastest, chord-driven punk out there. But even then, you had Minor Threat covering “12XU” by Wire. And it was Wire who first made the transition from punk to bare-bones art-rock sound cool. Reflector is Dischord’s Chairs Missing, and that’s pretty cool.