Creating a capital-m Moment in a song is more about the pitch than it is the big swing for the fences. It’s about anticipation and, more importantly, wondering what the big crack is going to sound like.
A Healthy Earth, the new record from Brooklyn-based Peaer, lives in those liminal spaces between the release of the pitch and the contact of the bat. Over the album’s 11 tracks, the Brooklyn trio set themselves up for massive math-rock moments with precise instrumentation and a keen ear for particularly geeky songwriting. Despite some undercooked lyrics, the sonics on A Healthy Earth often make contact to send the ball soaring.
Seconds into album-opener “Circle,” you’ll hear what I’m talking about. Following a percussive explosion, bandleader Peter Katz hushes bassist Thom Lombardi and drummer Jeremy Kinney with the clarity of a seasoned conductor. When it’s time to get louder again, Katz throws the conductor performance out the window, shredding and screaming as the song hurtles toward its time signature-defiant conclusion. That songwriting tic is present throughout most songs on the album, oscillating regularly between skronky wails and tender whispers that’ll have you reaching to turn the volume up to better hear Lombardi and Kinney’s tactile and textured playing.
“Don’t” might be the best distillation of that sound, changing time signatures and decibel levels at the drop of a hat. A twirling guitar lick swerves in the negative spaces defined by tangible bursts of percussion and Katz’s strained vocals, setting the stage for a reverb-heavy, cacophonous bridge that leads into the track’s deceptive outro. The track’s lyrics are just as cathartic as the fits of noise peppered throughout; Katz, struggling with a politically regressive friend he hasn’t seen in months, rips into him with “You act like you’ve never been in public / Why do you treat others like objects? / Man, I’d hate to see how you treat objects.”
While those lyrics are incisive, other political lines on the album don’t fare as well. “Joke” attempts to turn the camera inward and recognize Katz’s own complicity in getting Trump elected. Mumbling over metronomic instrumentation, he doesn’t quite stick the landing: “I told a joke / At least it started as a joke / Now I’m sorry that I spoke,” Katz whispers, halfway to letting himself off the hook.
It’s not just the politics, either; “Ollie” is an ode to Katz’s dog that doesn’t amount to much other than a nostalgic vehicle for a surprisingly effective clarinet solo. “I.K.W.Y.T.” is about restraining yourself in the early stages of a relationship that reads more like a laundry list of red flags than it does an admittance of self-consciousness, eliciting squirms with lines like “Clenching my fist so I don’t cum too quick in my undies.”
Still, Katz treats his voice like he does the other instruments on the record, leading to some great vocal runs that give the otherwise underwhelming lines an emotional heft. That’s evident in the auto-tune assisted back half of “Multiverse,” a trick that turns Katz’s simple, introspective lyrics into a more substantive meditation. He ponders how the little choices might shape larger ideologies, glitching between the different realities he sings about with a technical flair: “In another universe, I took a left turn, I spoke a different first word / In another universe, we have a healthy earth, we understand the worth of a life.” That personal-but-political songwriting is where Katz shines, as is the case on the lovelorn “In My Belly” and the weary album-closer “Have Fun!,” both of which highlight Katz’s exceptional vocal work.
There are some really great moments throughout A Healthy Earth—the acoustic bossa guitar outro on “Wilbur,” the Shamir-assisted harmonies on “In My Belly” and the xylophone-assisted, explosive percussion on “Have Fun!” all come to mind. But instrumentation is only part of the big swing; you’ve got to have the full follow-through if you’re going to clear the fences.