Release date: February 24, 2017 | Anti- / Transgressive Records | Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website
It’s become a bit of a tradition to end the year on the softest note possible with A Scene In Retrospect, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that these episodes are usually stacked with my very own suggestions. I’ve wrestled with the concept of comfort zones vs. pushing your own boundaries ever outwards for years, but this year, I’ve finally come to the realization that I value the familiarity of my personal bubble over the allure (and FOMO as a motivational factor) of the unknown. Instead of chasing new kicks, I’ve decided to map out every nook and cranny of my comfort zone – a rewarding process in and of itself, one that has led me deeper into at times surprising parts of my own tastes.
This prelude might read like one of those annoying stories in an online recipe, where all you wanted was to learn how to cook a certain dish and then you’re bombarded with the writer’s entire life story. Well, I can’t deny the similarities, but I promise that there’s value in you knowing what few details of my own psyche I might unveil here.
You see, 2017 was the year my tastes started to pivot; less of a gentle nudge and more of a series of earth-shaking musical revelations. I discovered so much music outside of the bubble I was previously entrenched in – progressive rock and metal, alternative metal, and the occasional post-rock and electronica. That was my diet when I joined It Djents in 2016, and as we transitioned towards our inevitable rebranding as Everything Is Noise, my tastes did the same. So many styles I formerly scoffed at in my perceived superiority were now what I actively sought out, and it all started with a small handful of records that gently pushed me into what has gradually become my new comfort zone.
If you guessed that Impermanence by Peter Silberman was one of those, you may pat yourself on the back for guessing correctly. To this day, that special little record remains in my top 3 records of all time. It’s a gem that shaped a whole era of my personal journey as a music fan. For those unaware of this solo affair by The Antlers‘ frontman, Impermanence is like a record full of little brothers and sisters of Jeff Buckley‘s version of “Hallelujah”; the whole vibe, intimacy, and instrumentation is very close to that superlative musical statement.
The whole story of this record is quite interesting. After a devastating bout with tinnitus, hyperacusis, and cochlear hydrops, Silberman re-entered the world of music through a series of slow, quiet compositions, a far cry from the emotional climaxes he constructed for his main band. It’s this comparative stillness, this ambient kind of soulful folk music, that makes for a perfect backdrop on which to lay down Silberman’s incredibly emotive voice – a match made in heaven through adversity, if you will. There’s a certain spark embedded within these six songs that I haven’t encountered in many records since.
Beginning with “Karuna” (Sanskrit for ‘compassion’ or ‘mercy’), Impermanence quietly passes the threshold of your perception to make a home within your mind; a gentle, rustic space filled with love and empathy. This song is one of three named after guiding Buddhist principles, the other two being “Maya” – ‘pretense’ or ‘deceit’ – and “Ahimsa”, the practice of nonviolence. Impermanence has a spiritual depth that’s rooted deeply in the search for self-understanding and one’s place in the world, so discovering that Buddhist thought was an influence on the record’s inner philosophy isn’t all that surprising.
One song that mirrors the album’s inception quite well is “New York”, one of my personal favorites. It tells the story of a person who finds the world around them to become ever more effervescent, noisy to an unbearable degree. Fleeing this postmodern hubbub, the lyrical I retires to the quiet fringes of the world. It’s not hard to imagine that Silberman wrote this as a reaction to his own experiences, and yet, there’s a quality to his escapist fiction that makes it very relatable to anyone who’s overwhelmed with the constant stream of noise and information that comes with our modern times.
Together with a small handful of trusted companions, Silberman has crafted an album of unmatched intimacy and tenderness, one that has had a gentle but firm grasp on my attention for almost 7 years at this point. I don’t think Impermanence will ever fade from my rotation; its impact on my life is too keenly felt. All that’s left to say is thank you – thank you to Peter Silberman for creating this wonderful piece of music, and thank you for reading what I had to say about one of my favorite records of all time.
With that being said, I will now stop being the proverbial donkey and yield the (similarly proverbial) stage to my colleague Broc, who recently experienced this record for the very first time; I genuinely hope that he found even a shred of the enjoyment in it that I have.
Reflecting on impermanence is a necessary part of the human experience. One must grapple with loss and change of things they held onto in order to navigate existence. To understand that everything is in flux is a core concept of Buddhism, a key inspiration on the songwriting by The Antlers frontman Peter Silberman on his solo record Impermanence.
The story of Impermanence is about dealing with these changes. Silberman began to suffer terrible tinnitus after years of touring and making music. So, he moved to upstate New York to dodge the cacophony of city life and heal. The songs and sound of Impermanence are a reflection of this healing.
I consider myself a trepidatious fan of The Antlers. In 2009, when they released their classic album Hospice, I eagerly listened to the indie album all of the critics were raving about. It was absolutely worth the hype. Brilliant crescendos, moments of ambient comfort, and thrilling musicianship were the musical backdrop of (at that time) the most heartbreaking record I ever heard. Lyrically, it tore me apart using the concept of sitting bedside to a dying cancer patient as a metaphor for romantic loss in every way, emotional, physical, spiritual, psychological.
I treated Hospice like Requiem For a Dream, a glorious and standout piece of art that is so crippling in its effect that experiencing it once is enough to leave a lasting impact. Cautiously, I listened to Burst Apart, the 2011 follow-up to Hospice, and found the band angrier, still exceptional, but the impact was nowhere near the same. So, I lost touch with them as a fan.
However, Impermanence, albeit very different, has given me cause to reflect on those albums and so much more. The music could be the desperate quietness of early Iron & Wine, acoustic and whispered as Silberman dealt with healing, but instead we are met with an electric affair with vocals that effortlessly soar into dramatic falsettos. The most obvious comparison is Jeff Buckley, where fragile tendrils of guitar weave a garden wall of peaceful sound that threatens to overgrow the brick and dismantle it were it not part of the foundation of its stability.
When the internal noise of your own ears is a constant wave of white noise, perhaps the best move is to let every note you play linger and breathe. Let your songs be slow and meditative, your voice be a counterpoint to the suffering samsara of those waxy canals, clear and resonant, prominent but not piercing. It isn’t until the last half of opener “Karuna” that we hear drums, gently pulsing in the back, favoring toms rather than lots of cymbal crashes and snare pops. It starts to call to mind Death Cab For Cutie or Grizzly Bear.
“New York” follows and is one of my favorite tracks on the album, describing the sounds of New York City assailing his ears and psyche over gentle guitar work and lo-fi woodwinds and brass. It deserves to be canonized in the ever-growing songs-about-NYC library. “Gone Beyond” is similar to “Karuna” but a little more playful, with group backing vocals and a bit more swing.
“Maya” does bring in the acoustic guitar strummed like a slowed down Jack Johnson, but replace the pookah-shell beach bro vibes with somber falsettos about life and death, which is to say, quietly stunning.
“Ahimsa” stands as my favorite track. Channeling the idea of non-violence into a plea to an unknown subject, ‘share silence/no violence, no violence, no violence today,’ Silberman could be singing to you, a lover, the world at large, and it all works well. The track transmits tranquility like a mantra with its stable beat, calming riff, and gorgeous vocals. It is also one of the most straightforward tracks in structure on Impermanence, but emergent synths, the sounds of birds, and layered vocals elevate this song to sheer beauty.
Finally, the album closes with the instrumental title track, a soothing post-rock song that seems to end abruptly to the hushed sounds of static. This is an album about healing, written for healing and to heal. There is a lot of peace to be found on this record full of soothing vibes and pristine clarity. The album-as-recovery clearly worked since The Antlers released Green to Gold in 2021, offering a toned-down, breezy sound that shows Silberman working within his limitations and physical comfort. We can only hope that his creative output continues, whether solo or with The Antlers, because if even at his quietest on Impermanence, there is impactful music to hear on the other side of shattered heartbreak.