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Music / Hospice

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

Hospice is the third studio album by Brooklyn indie band The Antlers with Sharon Van Etten making a guest appearance on vocals. It is the first Concept Album attempted by the band, as well as the first album released as a full group rather than frontman Peter Silberman's project. It was originally released in March of 2009, although demand was so great that it was officially reissued in August of that year.

The album's story tells of the doomed relationship between a hospital worker and a terminal cancer patient. The disease has left the patient in a deranged state and prone to violent mood swings, who she takes out any frustrations on the hospital worker who, despite the abuse, loves and supports her until her inevitable death. According to Silberman, this is all a metaphor for an emotionally abusive relationship, which is autobiographical to at least some extent.

Widely considered the band's masterpiece, Hospice went on to receive critical acclaim upon release; its lyrics and instrumentation were commended, and the emotional intensity of its concept led to it being deemed one of the most depressing albums of all time.

Coming from the tail-end of the decade, Hospice is considered one of the greatest albums of the 2000s and, for some, of all time, citing it as the In the Aeroplane Over the Sea of today.


  1. "Prologue" (2:35)
  2. "Kettering" (5:10)
  3. "Sylvia" (5:27)
  4. "Atrophy" (7:40)
  5. "Bear" (3:54)
  6. "Thirteen" (3:11)
  7. "Two" (5:56)
  8. "Shiva" (3:45)
  9. "Wake" (8:44)
  10. "Epilogue" (5:25)

Principal members

  • Peter Silberman - Vocals, guitar, accordion, harmonica, harp, keyboards
  • Darby Cicci - Trumpet, bowed banjo
  • Michael Lerner - Drums, percussion
  • Justin Stivers - Bass
  • Sharon Von Etten - Vocals

Let's open up those tropes:

  • Album Intro Track: "Prologue" begins with sounds of respirators and heartbeat monitors before the instrumentation kicks in. This establishes both the setting and an atmosphere of despair and fear before transitioning into "Kettering".
  • All There in the Manual: The liner notes for "Prologue," an instrumental, are a modified version of the lyrics from "Sylvia, An Introduction," a song from The Antlers' preceding EP (and bonus track on some versions of Hospice) which set up the story of the titular Sylvia. The notes outline a bit more backstory to the patient's condition and its psychological effects, and turn a couple of lyrics in later tracks into a Call-Back.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The ending to "Wake" seems to be Silberman directly giving advice to the listener:
    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.
    Don't ever let anyone tell you you deserve that.
  • Call-Back: In "Epilogue", the narrator repeats the phrase "screaming and cursing" from "Sylvia".
    • Several lyrics call back to lines from "Sylvia, An Introduction", a song from an EP The Antlers released the year before Hospice. "Your face is up against mine and I'm too terrified to speak," "Dig me out from under our house," and "get your head out of the oven" from "Epilogue", "Thirteen", and "Sylvia" respectively all echo lyrics from "Sylvia, An Introduction". The song also largely shares a melody with "Bear" and "Epilogue".
    • The final lines of "Wake" have the same melody as the final lines of "Atrophy".
  • Concept Album: The entire album is centered around a narrative of an abusive relationship.
  • Downer Ending: The patient's death, and the worker being unable to get over it.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: "Prologue", which establishes the hospital setting.
  • Epic Rocking: "Wake" and "Atrophy", which both clock in at around 8-9 minutes and undergo multiple changes in instrumentation.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Averted in the most gutturally heartbreaking manner. "Thirteen" is told from the perspective of the patient as she knowingly nears death, and she's begging the worker to save her.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Between "Prologue" and "Kettering", and again between "Bear" and "Thirteen".
  • Foregone Conclusion: The fact that we know what happens in the end only makes things so much worse.
  • Freudian Excuse: The cancer patient, if "Two" is anything to go by.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted in "Bear". The wife becomes pregnant and the couple decides an abortion would be best because of their unhealthy relationship.
  • Grief Song: An entire album, but "Shiva", "Wake" and "Epilogue" are more direct examples, with the narrator trying to deal with the patient's death.
  • Love Nostalgia Song: Averted with "Kettering", which is about the singer wishing he hadn't fallen in love with someone in the first place.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Kettering," "Atrophy," and "Thirteen".
  • One-Word Title: The album and its tracks.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • "Bear"
    But we'll make only quick decisions and you'll just keep me in the waiting room,
    When all the while I'll know we're fucked and not getting un-fucked soon
    • "Two"
    Daddy was an asshole, he fucked you up
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: The first few bars of "Bear" are are taken almost exactly from "Twelve Variation on 'Ah vous dirai-je, Maman'" by Mozart (aka, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star").
  • Romanticized Abuse: Averted. The metaphor of the cancer patient as an emotional abuser is not romanticized.
  • Short Title: Long, Elaborate Subtitle: It doesn't appear on the album's back cover, but the liner notes show that a couple of the songs do have alternate titles which serve to describe the song a little more:
    • "Bear": "Children Become Their Parents Become Their Children"
    • "Two": "I Would Have Saved Her If I Could"
  • Shout-Out: Of the tragic variety. "Sylvia" and "Sylvia, An Introduction" both mention the titular character putting her head in an oven, a reference to Sylvia Plath's famous suicide. The lyrics about crawling under a house in "Sylvia, An Introduction" and "Thirteen" are also Plath references, as her first known suicide attempt occurred when she overdosed on sleeping pills in a crawlspace under her house.
  • Stealth Sequel: To the EP New York Hospitals released the year before, specifically the song "Sylvia, An Introduction".
  • Switching P.O.V.: "Thirteen" is sung from the patient's perspective, and gives insight into her fear of her oncoming death.
    Can't you stop this all from happening?
    Close the doors and keep them out.