by Tom Alexander (@___alexd)
“Everything is just a fucking circle,” Peter Katz sings on the first track of Peaer’s new record, A Healthy Earth. If his hands weren’t on his guitar currently playing the song, they’d be pulling out his hair. “The molecules that make King Arthur’s table,” he follows up, pointing out the recursive nature of matter. We may zoom in all we like, but we continue to see circles, or we can go in the other direction, zooming out to look at the shape of the planet, or further, at its orbit around the sun, and we just get circles. That idea – that things continue to be the same on many different levels – is a theme of A Healthy Earth. Even in the song “Circle” itself, a song about literal and metaphorical circles, the musical progression of its finale forms a circle of fifths. That’s right, it’s circles all the way down.
You’ll see Peaer frequently described as a “math-rock” band, or some variation of that descriptor. That adjective carries a connotation with it, often one of clinical coldness. A Healthy Earth, however, is anything but clinical or cold. It’s gentle. It’s friendly. It’s warm. Peaer has always written music that is tender and clever, and A Healthy Earth is shows how the band’s tenderness feeds into their clever songwriting, and how their cleverness informs their tender touch. You know, like a brainy, lovelorn ouroboros. Peaer’s music is a comfortable blanket with an optical illusion embroidered on it; it feels great, and when you look at it from certain angles, its patterns appear to be impossible. The idiosyncratic moments of A Healthy Earth aren’t there just for the sake of being there; they serve a purpose. The start-stop rhythms of “Don’t” mirror the hesitant anxieties of its narrator, for example. Wait a second. Is it the narrator’s anxiety that causes the song to start and stop? Or is it the music’s need to stop and start that causes the narrator’s anxiety? It’s circular reasoning. Yes: more circles.
This kind of playfulness characterizes a lot of A Healthy Earth, even though some of its subject matter is dark. For example, in “Multiverse” – a song at the heart of the record – Katz posits that “In another universe / We have a healthy Earth / We understand the worth of a life.” It’s a great sentiment, right? That somewhere out there in the near-infinite collection of universes, that there’s one universe in which our Earth is safe (from environmental devastation, climate collapse, war, take your pick). The implicit understanding is that then this is not that Earth. Our Earth is not healthy. It’s right around that moment that Side A ends mid-song, only to continue on Side B. The second half of the song, in keeping with the album’s themes, zooms in and finds only the exact same problems. “In another universe,” Katz sings this time, “There’s another you of course / With a whole different sort of life.” It’s a devastating realization, and the clever mirroring of the production (splitting the song across the sides) only sharpens its impact. A Healthy Earth uses a lot of “self-similarity,” which is something you’ve probably seen in visual art or other digital media. The Mandelbrot Set and the Koch Curve are famous examples – as you zoom in, the pattern stays exactly the same.
What if you’re not interested in musical pun-craft? Putting on a white starched lab coat and looking at these individual moments can be rewarding, but it’s not necessary because these individual moments all add up to very satisfying songs. While that may sound obvious, songs like “Circle” and “Don’t and “Joke” work as great non-traditional pop songs as they do nerdy musical puzzles. Peaer’s influences are not quite as obvious this time around – where their self-titled record proudly checked David Bazan, Modest Mouse, and Duster, A Healthy Earth sounds like album the band has been working toward all along – it sounds like their own voice.