"I'm definitely pretty obsessed with the sense of self lately," said Peter Silberman, leader of the introspective indie rock group the Antlers.
It's a notion heavily explored in the band's fifth studio album, "Familiars." The carefully crafted record is pieced together by soft yet engulfing arrangements and paced like a thoughtful conversation that, like Silberman, doesn't shy away from deep questions.
"Is there a solid core at the center of me that defines everything that I do? If you look really closely at it, you find out that there isn't," Silberman said. "You sort of have this constructed identity that's carried you through your life, helped you make decisions, gives you a sense of what your conscience is, what your personality is, who you are. It's a pretty malleable center."
The Antlers' center has shifted considerably since the project's inception. The Brooklyn-based band started off as Silberman's solo project, which he recorded in his bedroom. "I might have had high creative ambitions, but I never had high commercial ambitions," said Silberman.
It was the transition into the Antlers' breakthrough third album, "Hospice," when Silberman began assembling the group into its current trio of multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner. It was a poignant time for Silberman, who was struggling with the disintegration of the relationship with his girlfriend.
Silberman transformed that grief into the metaphorical concept of "Hospice," recounting the relationship between an ill child and caretaker in a cancer ward. Released in August 2009, the record struck a chord among indie rock listeners.
"I think at the core of it there was a pain that everyone was sharing and a processing of that pain that transcends the specifics," Silberman said. "For me, airing some of those grievances … [was] a way for me to make sense of my own situation."
"Hospice" served as a key time in the growth of the Antlers because of the attention the trio received along with the perception of being a "sad band" given the album's grim subject matter.
"The band may have a bit of a reputation for making music that is kind of depressing, but I think they're more complex than that. There's a lot of hope in there too," said KCRW DJ Dan Wilcox, who has played the group's music on his Sunday night show. "I've been a fan of the Antlers for a few years, but on their new album 'Familiars' it seems like they've really upped the ante."
As the band began working on the follow-up to "Hospice," Silberman acknowledged that the group needed to continue evolving.
"We worked on this record for a long time, and I think throughout a lot of the process it didn't necessarily feel like we were making progress," said Silberman. "It was a slow burn of a creation, and I think that helped us be more mindful of one another and of the way that we make music."
On "Familiars," Silberman's vocals have also moved away from his usual falsetto — a sound that he felt contributed a sense of vulnerability to the band's music — and into a tone that's closer to his natural speaking voice.
"I think it was kind of about finding a spiritual center," said Silberman of his new approach. "The center to me … became a place of stability, a place of peace."
Stability factors into the song "Director," as the Antlers seek to understand how the past shapes a person. "You will hate who you are / 'til you overthrow who you've been," Silberman sings.
"Sometimes your ego tells you that you're terrible," said Silberman. "I think the idea in "Director" and that line is to say, 'Forget about that. Forget about this idea of who you are. You will continue to fall into the same patterns for better or for worse until you drop that story about yourself.'"
The Antlers are set to showcase "Familiars" on Saturday and Sunday at the Troubadour. It's as an opportunity for the band to reveal their progression while reflecting the stability that Silberman feels the new album evokes.
"I think the record on a certain level is about trying to find home when you are far from it," he said. "It's just about knowing where to look for it and knowing how to find it in yourself."
When: Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.
Where: Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd, L.A.
Cost: Sold out