by Josh Ginsberg (@world0fdarkness)
There’s a homey quality to the songs of Peter Katz—the man at the center of Peaer—but not homey in the warm, fuzzy, pleasant way. The distant sounding piano that opens the album is the only timbre on Peaer that recalls that sentimental notion of home. Instead, the knotty, thoughtful songs of Peaer evoke the darker, colder, more claustrophobic resonances that the home possesses—the drafty room where we do our faintly-sad thinking on a Sunday afternoon, looking down the barrel of the week to come, just as the sun begins to withdraw from the sky.
Although he may write at home, alone, Peaer is the sound of a rock band. Atop the spare, straight rhythm tracks of Michael Steck’s bass guitar and Max Kupperberg’s drums, Katz’s guitar alternates between big slabs of carpeted chords and mathematical arpeggios that fold in on themselves like a cootie catcher. Steck’s bass playing follows Katz’s guitar parts closely, like your shadow just past high noon: so closely you’d miss it, if not for the additional depth and texture it provides. When Katz solos on the guitar, his voice is whacked-out and jubilant. The bendy, harmonics of closer “For the Rest of Your Life” evoke PWR BTTM and Hockey Night—too punk rock to be Nels Cline but the product of a similar mastery of feel and control.
Though the musical interplay of Peaer’s band is crucial to the record’s appeal, it’s Katz’s songwriting—observational, laconic and oddly piercing—that defines the LP. Anti-social anthem “I.H.S.Y.A.,” an acronym for “I hate seeing you around,” finds Katz pondering how difficult it is to keep your personality from modulating in the company of different people. Its visceral angst plays as well as a breakup song as it does a lament for the slipperiness of identity. The insistent, nudging progression of “Third Law” boasts one of Peaer’s lushest arrangements, with pinging glockenspiels, airy harmonies, and one of the album’s heaviest, most gratifying choruses. The punk-y pop of “Sick” melds the caffeinated chug of Superchunk with the heavy twang of Silkworm and the frank observation of peak Modest Mouse and provides an anatomical look at the physical sensations of heartbreak—a sloppy romp that makes hopelessness feel fun. The elliptical melody of “For the Rest Of Your Life” wanders from lonesomeness (“your breath warms the air…your eyes needed something else”) to inefficacy (“when I reach out to touch, my hands disappear”) and back to hopelessness (“my fate’s a figure eight”), again: a stream of dejected one-liners that highlight the poignancy of Katz’s fragmented observations. But the most mesmerizing gem on Peaer is its opening track, “Pink Spit.”
“Pink Spit” possesses the album’s strongest melody—a long phrase that carries listeners from a cocksure start-stop verse to a delicate, swooning chorus. It reaches out, as if to hold you, but falls away, as it cannot grasp you firmly enough to hold onto you for more than a couple seconds at a time. At least part of the strength of “Pink Spit” results from the fleetingness of its sweet melody, which is first heard played on a far-off upright piano that sounds like it’s drifted into your window from a neighboring apartment. For a second you fear you’ll never be able to locate the exact source of the melody or learn its name…before you remember you’re listening to Peaer and that the melody is coming from your headphones, not some mysterious apartment, and that it’s going to be alright.
Beyond its undeniable melody, “Pink Spit” performs an interesting thematic investigation into the nature of success. Lyrics about “hockin’…spit,” “poppin’…zits” and smokin’ spliffs enact the familiar slacker-Zen trope. Peaer play with the icons of the slacker lifestyle, despite the fact the complexity of their melodies and tightness of their performances seem antithetical to it. Katz’s lyrics tend to posture indifference before they betray that impression with a sudden burst of frankness. “Pink Spit” diverges from the recurring theme of heartbreak in an interesting way, as it begins to comment on the way success is measured and mediated.
On the final chorus of “Pink Spit,” Katz sings “I don’t want to support this / system of deciding what goes in front and what goes up and what gets fucked.” This thread is particularly striking to anyone who participates in a music scene and reckons with the question of success on a regular basis, but it also speaks to a bigger question of success that is reckoned with by high school students, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings and on and on. This thread seems to recur on “Third Law,” where Katz uses Newton’s laws of motion (“[enacting] force upon an object”) to explore the pursuit of making “contact.” In light of the lines that close “Pink Spit,” the wish to make “contact” described on “Third Law” seems like a metaphor for attaining success. But things get more complicated. When Katz first sings “you have to really fucking want it,” it seems that “it” refers to making “contact”; but Katz continues singing: “to fall onto the carpet / and have someone else come clean it,” and the statement Peaer makes gets murkier. Katz seems to be pointing to the ultimate helplessness of the aspirational person, who relies on a mediating outside party to intervene in his/her life in order to improve it. This need for an external party raises a question about how we gauge success, artistic and otherwise: in America, a person must be validated by an audience, critic, performance review or holiday bonus in order to be considered successful. For a culture that celebrates rugged individualism and self-sufficiency, our model of work seems out of step.
The slacker is a romantic figure—a sort of modernized middle class beat—who resists conforming to the conventions of America’s work culture to pursue what fulfills them on a deeper level. While the option of living the slacker lifestyle ultimately belongs to the bourgeoisie, the decision to employ this trope is useful tool for examining the deadening experience of the 9-5 workweek, often depicted as a machine that dismantles individuality. On songs like “Pink Spit” and “Third Law,” Peaer questions the counterintuitive logic that dictates that you should work because having a job makes your life better—even if working makes you unhappy. On Peaer, Katz uses a familiar indie rock trope to explore the experience of making indie rock music, artfully.