Friday, March 10, 2017

Peter Silberman - Impermanence Review

Defined as a state of being that's enduring and transitory, impermanence can be found having even greater importance in the Buddhist religion, being one of just three marks of existence. To Peter Silberman, that word has meaning. To me, it's difficult to spell. And that's why Silberman, lead singer of renowned Indie outfit The Antlers, is a cherished songwriter and I am not. Every record in the band's discography, one that started with Silberman as the sole member, centers around the concept of existentialism and the permeating feeling's that coincide with it. In Silberman's eyes, every setback, tragedy, mishap, is just a life lesson being passed down to reflect on one's self. His encounter with a crippling hearing ailment is no different, and constitutes the basis for Impermanence's existence. With noise infesting his eardrums around every New York City street corner, it only made sense to retreat to the recesses of the greater state. And so he did, both physically and spiritually, leaving The Antlers behind in the process. Impermanence is Peter Silberman's first solo album, a formal retreat into the self. Powered by the soothing aesthetic of his Slowcore outfit, Impermanence strips back the noise even further, living in a highly-sedated, meditative state.

Both a byproduct of his solo state of affairs and the aural condition he's now inflicted with, Impermanence's weighty singer/songwriter approach finds everything but the lead and his guitar as needless illumination. They're not entirely absent, just used critically in times of greatest impact. 'Karuna,' the album's opener, poises this idea by meandering like water in a still pond for five of its eight minutes, as if it's entering a cognitive state detached from the gravity of reality. Silberman's haunting vocals in the front, his reverb-heavy guitar brushing long strokes in the back. For listeners not fully in-tune with Silberman's excessive Slowcore, Impermanence can be seen as patience-testing. There's no monumental explosion, shocking crescendo, or high-paced Indie Rock ballad as was seen dotting Hospice's legendary tracklist. For 36 minutes, it's Silberman practicing the Buddhist way of contemplative reclusiveness. I'd argue even you, the listener, is the last thing on his mind. However, even though we may be unwelcome, Silberman's dreary falsetto is alluring enough to pique straying ears. Two comparative names arise, both due to 'Karuna's' bleak palate; Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu. Whilst all three voices bear similarities, it's actually Yorke's lyricism and Stewart's tone that comes through Silberman's breath. Look to the former's discography or the latter's harrowing 'Sycamore Tree' for examples of each.

Something 'Karuna' offers that's present on other efforts here too is something that lends further credence to Silberman's metaphysical introspection; dreamy repetition. As with most things here, the execution, and more importantly the commitment to said execution, is a double-edged sword. Every single song (apart from the instrumental closer) features Silberman, at one point or another, typically during what would be considered the climax, repeating a simple phrase. The purpose is fleeting, as he could be reprising to remember, to forget, to believe, or to doubt. The simplicity of mediation causes many of these lines to be a rather plain word or two, typically the title of said song. In 'Ahimsa's' case, the best in execution, Silberman takes the Buddhist word's English interpretation, no violence, and peacefully loops that instead. Point being, these soft, but taxing moments of exhalation work best to fit the dormant concept, but don't make for an enjoyable sound in the long run. There's no denying, Silberman's voice and the clashing guitars and drums make these moments awfully pretty, they just last too long for someone who's not simultaneously meditating.

While the scaling towers of 'Karuna,' 'Gone Beyond,' and 'Ahimsa,' all clocking over the seven-minute mark ('Ahimsa' is close enough), it's actually 'New York' that makes the strongest impact. Silberman's use of the namesake is cozy, not redundant, and his perspective on the hearing ailment works on both the small scale and The Antlers' typical large scale. Like much of Hospice, which used a supremely well-told story to circumvent a discussion on death, 'New York' speaks on the city's noise and the abrasiveness it causes people to live by. With pain ringing through Silberman every time a siren went off, every time a room grew loud, he "learned to stand in back," causing him to appreciate, possibly for once in his life, the smaller things. It's arguably Silberman's most direct song since the fascinatingly dark 'Putting The Dog To Sleep,' that closed out Burst Apart. And that helps to put in perspective Impermanence's lofty self-actualizations. Lines like "I want you to hear what I hear, a temple ticking away" ('Gone Beyond') and "I'm disassembling piece by piece, deteriorating, decayed, decreased" ('Karuna') take on fresh perspectives when understanding Silberman's current circumstances.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the sounds of Impermanence, nothing remarkable stands out. Now, of course, that's the point. Silberman's land away from humanities touch is one both solemn and laconic, causing beauty to be found in the simplicity. And while it's surely there, I'm mostly finding myself awaiting the simmering payoff than enjoying the subtle nuances. The first half of 'Karuna,' same for 'Gone Beyond,' and the entirety of 'Maya' breeze on by like a gust in the wind that no one remembers. Not coincidentally the two best tracks, 'New York' and 'Ahimsa,' are those which sound most similar to The Antlers' work, and namely the standouts from Familiars, an album which had respectable highs but, much like Impermanence, too many lows. Considering 'Impermanence' acts as a hushed final breath, appreciating the silence untouched by voice, 'Ahimsa' is the true spiritual closer. Silberman doesn't seem in much a changed place (doing so in 30 minutes time would be challenging), which is okay considering peace and tranquility dominated his being from the get-go. However, 'Ahimsa's' request of "no violence today" isn't so much a critique on those who live life aggressively, and more so a request for some silence. Violence is loud. Pacification is not. Look inwards and you'll find the answer. For Silberman, that became even easier when the sounds of modern society hurt.

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