Recommended Listening: Jeffrey Silverstein - Torii Gates
In Shito tradition, torii gates are the symbolic entryways into shrines - scared spaces where visitors can take time to pray and give thanks. Crossing through these gates and into the world of Kami, reverent guests leave behind the persistent hum of everyday pressures in order to meditate on deeper spiritual forces, ever present but not always the recipients of our collective attention.
On his upcoming EP, Portland-based songwriter Jeffrey Silverstein is standing just under these crimson crossbeams, ready to pass through. Using six sonic constructions to prompt introspection, Silverstein invites us to explore personal notions of peace and wonder, while also negotiating universal struggles rooted in the profane. When listening to his aptly-titled Torii Gates EP, we gaze through these thresholds into transcendence beyond, before individually ruminating on what it is, exactly, that stands in our way.
Silverstein under the St. John's Bridge in North Portland, not far the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Photo provided by the artist.
Though Torii Gates runs just about 25 minutes, Silverstein touches on a variety of sounds across the six tracks. There is the spoken work psych jam of opener Caught Behind the Hours, which then bleeds into Trip Sitter, the David Berman-style baritone on the album's latter tracks, and the twang of Barry Walker Jr.'s pedal steel rising up here and there. Alex Chapman plays bass on Torii Gates, and he along with Walker Jr. form quite a backing band - the same one, in fact, that played on Silverstein's excellent 2020 full-length release, You Become The Mountain. You can sense a familiarity between the three musicians, and production by Ryan Oxford (of Y La Bamba) helps the music flow together seamlessly.
River Running By is the EP's lead single, and it just dropped a couple days ago. Catch it below, and you will hear Silverstein connecting life's passage to the image of a meandering river, his lyrics floating lazily on the water's surface. Like another riverside classic, it is both tender and a little sad, as any reflection on the fleeting nature of our lives should be.
Torii Gates EP is out in its entirety on April 16 via Arrowhawk Records, and you can find preorder information here (it's not out for a while yet). As an avid trail runner who spends time in Portland's Forest Park (where the city's iconic Japanese Garden is located), Silverstein likely thinks about torii gates more often than most people. This EP, then, is an opportunity for all of us listeners to cross into a different state of mind. It is a meditation - a small moment of wonder and appreciation rooted in mindful presence. And for that we can be grateful.