Review Summary: The quiet road to recovery.
Almost losing your hearing will do a number on your psyche. Around the time Silberman was releasing Familiars
with The Antlers, a frightening dilemma was unfolding. The sound of ringing and rushing water overtook the inner walls of his mind. It left him paralyzed with fear, often recoiling in pain at loud or abrasive noises. At one point, he had no hearing at all in his left ear. It’s an understatement to say that playing music was out of the question, and there was a legitimate chance that the musical career he’d worked so hard to build would, quite suddenly, come crashing down. His road to recovery was riddled with sound barriers, forcing a slow and overtly quiet
return that took not months, but years. Impermanence
is the culmination of that experience: the shocking assault of tinnitus upon his aural nerves, the unsettling silence, and the trepidation surrounding the gradual re-introduction of sound into his world. Most of all though, it’s a concept record about the temporary nature of all things in life – including suffering.
Impermanence. It’s one of the essential doctrines of Buddhism, a belief that all existence, without exception, is "transient, evanescent, and inconstant.” The implications of such principles can be heard far and wide on this record, from the opening ‘Karuna’ (a Sanskrit word for compassion) through Silberman’s rally for peace on the penultimate ‘Ahimsa.’ Lines like “All of this will disappear / I only have you now, you only have me here / And we can’t count on tomorrow night” speak to the transience of life, and the desire to make the most of all time spent here on Earth. Set to a hushed, ambient atmosphere, every moment of Impermanence
sounds like an ephemeral thought in a stream-of-consciousness life. Take the single ‘New York’, a Paul Simon-esque ballad that revisits his hearing loss atop muted guitar picking and regal horns: “When my nerve wore down, I was assailed by simple little sounds / Hammer clangs, sirens in the park, like I never heard New York.” Like a still-frame photo of a moment in time, it’s both gorgeous and unassuming. This subdued tonality, combined with Silberman’s at-times angelic vocal abilities, washes over much of Impermancence
in a breathtaking haze.
While the passive mystique of Silberman’s solo debut works mostly to his advantage, it does often have unintentional drawbacks. It’s undeniably sleepy
, and drags about for long stretches such as the midsection comprised of ‘Gone Beyond’ and ‘Maya’, which evokes adjectives like “pretty” and “nice” but fails to make any sort of lasting impression across what amounts to thirteen minutes of outstretched, monotonous ambience. The former track is essentially just Silberman repeating the title over echoing cymbals, while the latter is a goodbye ballad of sorts that might have been more memorable if the acoustic guitars ventured outside of the same couple strings being tediously picked, never increasing in tempo or even offering variation within its confines. Generally, if you’re not totally ensnared by a track on Impermanence
, chances are it’s passing by totally unnoticed. While ‘Karuna’, ‘New York’ and ‘Ahimsa’ all admirably hold their own, the same can’t be said for the other three tracks; a meandering and often confusing mish-mash of monotony-drenched ambience.
At the end of the day, Impermanence
marks an important milestone on Silberman’s road to recovery. It’s an understandably discreet effort, as Peter finds himself working within a new set of auditory parameters that may not have existed prior to his brush with hearing loss. It’s not the most exciting effort in his repertoire, even compared to his relatively lo-fi Antlers outings, but he still finds moments of triumph using little more than his voice and the quiet pitter-patter of instruments that have been purposely subdued from ringing out with the kind of clarity that would make most records feel full-bodied. This is a transitory album true to its name and its concept, illustrating a challenging but ultimately temporary chapter in Silberman’s life. Of course it’s not his best work, but given the obstacles he’s faced, it’s not a bad first step as the world of indie-rock slowly regains one of its most talented and alluring artists.