Peter Silberman made a name for himself as the primary songwriter and vocalist for The Antlers, a band that was lauded for its ability to “emotionally destroy listeners.” For many, it was the earnestness of Silberman’s lyrics and the tenderness of his falsetto that made the band such a tour de force. Records like Hospice, Burst Apart and Familiars reaped in critical acclaim and helped build a healthy stable of devoted fans. But then Silberman lost his hearing.
Forced to abandon New York City and recalibrate his lifestyle, Silberman had to retool the way he wrote, listened to and performed music. He retreated to upstate New York to stay with childhood friend and longtime collaborator Nick Principe of Port St. Willow. It was there that Silberman began constructing Impermanence, a six song collection of what Silberman describes as “solitary songs.”
Perhaps the best frame of reference for what Silberman is trying here can be found on Familiars, which saw The Antlers experimenting with meandering, free-form style music. Silberman takes that formula a step further by stripping away nearly all of the ambient atmospherics, peppering in only a bit of percussion and keeping the electric instruments to a bare minimum.
Listeners are not shielded from this jarring shift in Silberman’s style for even a moment. Album opener ‘Karuna’, which is the Sanskrit word for compassion, features little more than raw guitar and Silberman’s soaring voice throughout its 9-minute runtime. But it is a credit to Silberman’s exhilarating songwriting, airtight composition and stunning vocals that he is able to grip the listener’s attention at all times, in one way or another. After all, Silberman has said that one of his aims for this record is for the listener to drift off into a meditative headspace. Much of the album’s themes have been informed by Eastern philosophy and literature, and Silberman sought to replicate his own meditative experiences through his music. Given that I often found my thoughts carried away by the ethereal beauty of Impermanence, I think it is safe to say to Silberman: mission accomplished. The only album with a similar power to take my mind elsewhere would be William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, and even he shuns lyrics. Silberman’s ability to transport the mind is almost otherworldly.
Even the album’s more traditionally structured songs, such as the Jeff Buckley-esque ‘New York’, have a certain power to them that results from Silberman’s less-is-more strategy. ‘New York’ is also one of the few songs that deals directly with Silberman’s hearing loss, as he comes to terms with the fact that his home is not the place it once was to him. "When my nerve wore down, I was assailed by simple little sounds," he sings. "Hammer clangs, sirens in the park, like I never heard New York."
Most of the album’s tracks veer towards the long side — four of them are over 5 minutes long and two of them run longer than 8 minutes — but Silberman’s compositions are packed with poignancy and are captivating. For those seeking the bloodletting catharsis of The Antlers, Impermanence may not be for you. But if you are looking for skillful song craft the likes of which we haven’t experienced in recent memory, give Peter Silberman your hand. He’s got a hell of a journey for you.