The Dear Hunter – Antimai
Progressive Rock | Funk | Disco
When you’ve spent a long time associating an actor with a particular role within a film or TV franchise, it can feel very jarring to then see them elsewhere in a different role. Given enough time and exposure your brain just subconsciously starts blurring the line between actor and character to the point where it’s hard to separate the two. You’ll see them on screen in another production, using a different accent and mannerisms, and for them it’s just another acting job, but for you it can almost feel like stumbling across a doppelganger of some acquaintance. They may look the same, but they aren’t the person you know, and your brain struggles to reconcile those two facts.
It’s that kind of disconnect that I’m trying to process through with Antimai. I’m already so deeply invested in The Dear Hunter’s Acts series, a multi-part sequence of concept albums weaving a tale of love and heartbreak, war and wickedness, discovery and deceit, that I can’t help but use it as the yardstick by which to measure this new record. Sure, the band have released plenty of non-Act related material over the years which I haven’t struggled with in this way, but something about this latest release being the first full length album in a new multi-album saga is making me look upon it through a more critical lens.
While the Acts were all focussed on narrative and characters, this first foray into the band’s new sci-fi setting is based entirely on worldbuilding. Getting us acquainted with the titular dystopian city of Antimai. Each track delves into one of the concentric rings of the city and the denizens within, all divided up according to class, guiding us from the lowest of the low clinging to the outskirts to the God Emperor in his imposing central tower. Though the band are no strangers to social commentary, this new approach and setting provides a lot more opportunities for drawing parallels with real life, and the band sure take that and run with it. ‘Ring 4 – Patrol’ touches on Police tensions in the US as it details the life of a patrolman who turned his back on his community to become an oppressive instrument of the powers that be, while ‘Ring 2 – Nature’, written from the perspective of the last remaining forest musing on the nature of humanity, carries a critique of our misguided approach to climate change (“No worries, just laughter, We’ll be here after, It might hurt, but they’ll go away“). The lines that hit home most however are found within ‘Ring 5 – Middle Class’, taking aim at the selfishness and complacency that leads to the slow crumbling of society: “Wе would love if it was better out thеre, And we would fix it if we only had the time, But the business begets a blindness, And the comforts enjoyed eclipse our eyeline“.
But while I’m impressed with Antimai lyrically, musically I’m a little more on the fence. Our first foray into this new saga of concept albums reveals that they’re built upon a foundation of funk. Infectious bass grooves, shimmering synths and a hearty helping of brass are the order of the day here, and in the album’s highlights the band truly wear it well. The glorious jazzy breakdown at the end of ‘Ring 5 – Middle Class’ feels worthy of being a song in its own right, ‘Ring 1 – The Tower’ boasts a more electronic arrangement to emphasise the disconnect between the central power and the people surrounding, while the irresistible hooks of lead single ‘Ring 7 – Industry’ puts it up there with some of the band’s best work.
The trouble is, you could take any of the acts and find everything from 20s swing and lounge jazz to heavy rockers and upbeat disco numbers, whereas here funk is kinda the only game in town. That diversity of sound was a major draw in what made me love this band, so I’m a little disappointed to see that eclecticism fall by the wayside on this new project. And to make matters worse the only track where the band really break away and try something different completely fails to stick the landing. ‘Ring 3 – Luxury’ for the most part plays as a bizarre off-beat spoken word piece that sounds like something from Hamilton, and ends with an abrasively peppy call-and-response that recalls the cha-cha slide.
Lukewarm as I am towards Antimai, I’m reminded that I didn’t fall head over heels for Act I either. When I first discovered The Dear Hunter, and went through from Act I to V, it wasn’t smooth sailing. There were times I thought about stopping, but at some point it all clicked and they became one of my favourite bands. Much as an actor doesn’t become iconic when first stepping into a recurring role, it takes time for the character to develop and worm its way into people’s hearts, only then do people look back with rose tinted glasses and say “ah yes, this is where it all began”. I can’t be sure if I’ll have a moment looking back on this new venture with that same appreciation further down the line, but there’s enough of interest here to keep me along for the ride as The Dear Hunter step into their new leading role.