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Peter Silberman headed upstate for the same reason most New Yorkers do: to get some damn peace and quiet. Problem is that he took all the noise with him. Though his work with the Antlers never had anyone confusing him with J Mascis, years of touring left Silberman with a debilitating hearing ailment that started as piercing tinnitus and evolved into a constant sound of “Niagara Falls in my head.” Even if aural healing was Silberman’s priority during his convalescence, there was no doubt what he was really working towards. His proper solo debut Impermanence is the result of physical, mental and emotional therapy, a man trying to re-enter his own life.
This is a guy who likened romantic failure to cancer and a dead dog, so the possibility of him turning this into a gut-wrenching metaphorical ordeal was very real. It’s almost more understandable that Silberman wouldn’t feel the need to dramatize his situation, given the timing of it all. “I’m disassembling piece by piece,” he moans on the record’s first line, though that describes less his own rehabilitation than affirms Antlers’ M.O. since their 2009 breakthrough. Hospice now stands as the last true exemplar of “2000s indie,” touching on Radiohead’s quasi-prog song structures, Sigur Rós’ amniotic ambiance, and Arcade Fire’s skyscraping crescendos. But since then, they’ve veered more toward the variously fanged and stoned Burst Apart, which turned out to be a tentative step towards the zonked-out laser-Floyd ambiance that defined their most recent work on Undersea and Familiars. And the process of Silberman’s reassembly has resulted in something not too far from what Antlers themselves might have put together in 2017.
“New York” is the most immediately fetching song on Impermanence, something like Interpol’s “NYC” if it was performed like the Grace version of “Hallelujah.” Silberman’s falsetto hovers over a translucent guitar, homesick for a place where he already lives: “When my nerve wore down/I was assailed by simple little sounds/hammer clangs, sirens in the park/like I never heard New York.” While he doesn’t quite have the natural vocal hops of his immediate influences, Silberman is one of the last true believers of the Buckley/Yorke school of operatic angst and he’s become just as effective as a lead instrument. For a lot of listeners, it’s a short step from Radiohead to Talk Talk and Impermanence unsurprisingly evokes Laughing Stock, the gold standard for mid-career, post-rock spiritual cleansing: “Karuna” begins with a few seconds of low amp buzz and a loosely knotted guitar chord that has to be an overt homage to “Myrrhman.”
It’s a spare album that asks for a lot of patience, if only a fraction of what Silberman needed to rehabilitate his ears in isolation. Impermanence isn’t meant to sound lonely, however; there are nearly a dozen contributors if you include Big Sur and Block Island, RI for their provision of field sounds. The most important is engineer and mixer Nicholas Principe, a frequent collaborator whose Port St. Willow project often felt spiritually akin to Silberman’s work. Principe is part of a quartet that providing doo-wop vocals during “Gone Beyond,” a supremely stoned jazz riff that ends with a presumptive cue for a vinyl flip. Yet the bulk of Impermanence suggests that burning these songs to a tangible item is a necessarily evil: the credits include Tibetan bowls and ujjayi breath, and the song titles (“Karuna,” “Ahimsa”) themselves are taken from basic principles of eastern philosophy in accordance with Silberman’s continuing desire to atone for the mean-spirited Burst Apart.
Though Impermanence is unmistakably a record about Silberman’s physical ailments, the lyrics attempt to find a balance between being just about that (“I’m listening for you, silence”) and giving the listener something they can apply to their own lives (“Our bodies are temporary”). Likewise, the six songs take a long time to assess whether they’re meant to offer serenity or a path to transcendence and whether Silberman’s self-imposed musical limitations can support his most philosophically ambitious work yet. It’s not a slight to call Impermanence functional music: If it helps someone else simply cut through the noise in their head, Silberman has gotten his point across.Share