Regular readers of this list will be familiar with my borderline-lusty responses to the last two albums by The Antlers. ‘Burst Apart’ caught me a little late on in the year and should have been in the top five of the 2011 countdown, while ‘Familiars’ was very nearly in the same part of the 2014 shebang. The key to the success of both, even though they occupy rather different territory, is the combination of a melodic haze and Peter Silberman’s often falsetto vocals. In the very unlikely event that neither are known to you, feel free to take a couple of hours of quality ‘you’ time before returning to the rest of this piece.
While touring ‘Familiars’, Silberman suffered an illness that strikes at the heart of the professional musician – extreme tinnitus and, initially, temporary total hearing loss in one ear. After persevering with the remaining shows, despite being in agony on stage, he took himself away from the bustle of city life and began to reflect upon the power of a silence he could not achieve. Missing his art but unable to work according to the usual rules, Silberman deployed a delicate singing style and a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar as his tools. The resulting work became ‘Impermanence’, an album given a title imbued with several meanings simply by knowing the context of its production.
There are two obvious reference points here, should you like that sort of thing. Firstly, and I do try to avoid wheeling this out more than once a countdown but sometimes needs must, there’s some of the spacious intensity of Talk Talk’s ‘Laughing Stock’ about tracks like ‘Karuna’. There’s also a hint of Jeff Buckley at his most intensely ornate, somewhere between his readings of ‘Corpus Christi Carol’ and ‘Hallelujah’, perhaps most noticeably on ‘Maya’. ‘New York’ is cut from similar cloth, the most conventional song here. It is, frankly, majestic.
However, don’t go thinking that this is some sort of pastiche, as it’s hard to think of another record in my collection that it sounds like. Yes, there are those shared aspects, but this is a thirty-seven minute immersion in a world without distraction, where every note, every word, every sound matters. It’s logical that, having been faced with the proposition of never hearing the world as you had until that point, Silberman opted not to waste a second of ‘Impermanence’. As a consequence, there are a number of particular moments that lodge in the mind as beautiful eruptions of sound. For example, the rhythmic conclusion to ‘Gone Beyond’ is a glorious gradual reveal in a piece that clocks in at over eight minutes and, with only six songs forming the record, brevity is not a key factor here. Also, during the title track which concludes the album, the combination of pump organ and synth creates a meditative soundscape that is still somehow not quite at ease before subsiding into the studio buzz, a brief period of actual silence and then another background noise intrudes. A fitting conclusion for an album built in a world where something was always interrupting.
There are times in life that this will not soundtrack well and it does, ultimately, command your full attention in that way that quiet but assertive speakers will hold a room rapt. However, when you have the time to give it, ‘Impermanence’ will offer plenty back. Don’t just give it a skim listen, if you’re in need of an introduction. I promise you won’t feel like a moment has been wasted in its company.