Since moving to Portland toward the end of last decade, Jeffrey Silverstein has found a comfortable niche in the city’s flourishing arts community. A hybrid of ambient music and patiently-crafted, cosmic country-folk, his work slots in nicely among the sounds of PDX luminaries like Rose City Band and Laura Veirs. Simply put, Silverstein is a master of constructing deep, contemplative instrumentals that spawn intense feelings of peace and calm. His last project, 2020’s You Become The Mountain, created a universe, one where things move slowly, mindfulness is a virtue, and stillness reigns supreme. Out today on Arrowhawk Records, Silverstein’s new EP, Torii Gates – named after a Japanese term that symbolically represents the transition from the mundane to the sacred – ventures deeper into that sphere of spiritual sensations, exploring companionship, the free will of nature, and conscious living as essential pieces to the puzzle of inner peace.
Torii Gates again sees Silverstein working with pedal steel wizard Barry Walker Jr., bassist Alex Chapman, and producer Ryan Oxford. As on their last collaboration, the band’s tight-knit chemistry is felt throughout the duration of the project. “Caught Behind The Hours” and “Trip Sitter” pick up right where You Become The Mountain left off: spacious, sky-scraping guitar infusions, paced by the subtle and steady choogle of programmed drums, deepened by the warm hiss of a tape machine and incorporated field recordings. Elsewhere on the instrumental front, “Beginner’s Mind” adopts an acoustic-focused approach to Silverstein’s soundscape design, channeling clarity and innocence through a mix of winding guitar patterns and clicking percussion.
In the same way the songs on this EP work together to form an enveloping and uniformly flowing river of sound, their success in creating this atmosphere is not due to any individual component outshining the rest, but rather, is based on the way the parts of each song overlay onto one another and work in conjunction, especially in regards to Silverstein and Walker. Take “Soft Lens,” where Silverstein’s quietly driving rhythms underscore Walker’s sublime pedal steel, allowing an unshakably dreamy instrumental to also work as a psych-tinged folk-rock groove. On the backend, you have “Flowers on the Highway,” where Walker’s distant licks glide over more lonely acoustic strumming, making for a melancholy moment that evokes a deep sense of longing.
While much of Silverstein’s recent output has been predominantly instrumental, Torii Gates sees him continuing to find increasing expression through songwriting on the lyrical side. His words are succinct and carefully chosen, often times performed in repeated refrains that allude to overarching themes or messages of reassurance. Even in their minimal nature, they are littered with imagery and enlightening phrases. On “River Running By,” Silverstein writes from a meditative state, his voice drifting slowly along the current of instrumentation like remnants of the forest floating down stream. Similarly, “Soft Lens” has a surprising anthemic quality, painting pictures of sacred gates and running down fever dreams to the teardrops of Walker’s magical stroke.