Peter Wolf Crier—the Midwestern duo made up of Peter Pisano and Brian Moen—are really on to something with the title of their first record. That made up phrase, Inter-Be, goes a long way in describing what’s going on in this record. It covers not only the sonic landscape here, which echoes both back into the past and forward into tomorrow, but also the emotion of the record and, perhaps most interestingly, where their sound falls in today’s musical world.
The duo’s sound could—repeat, could, were it made of lesser parts—get lumped in with a bunch of indie heavyweights, relegated to being the guys that sound like someone we already know. To hear the way Pisano can hit a reverbed falsetto, and the ghostly space in his guitar work, certainly calls to mind fellow Midwestern outfit Bon Iver, and the gravelly curl he puts in his voice on “Down, Down, Down” bears more than a passing resemblance to M. Ward. Couple those sorts of moments with their folk-driven sound, and there’s a real chance these guys could get lost in the shuffle.
Those comparisons are ours to set aside, not theirs to disprove, because Pisano and Moen have a sound that is, yes, very much a sound of today. But it also taps into sounds that have been around for ages, and the way they combine them on Inter-Be, the way they exist between the past and the present, is what makes these songs so arresting.
On one hand, the elements seem simple here: Pisano’s echoed voice, the bluesy, low-end pluck of his guitar, Moen thundering on the drums deep down in the track, and some keys and vocals to fill in the chasm between them. However, the way they combine those elements, and the different paths they take with them, is the real success here. It’s also what sets up this other feeling of being “inter”, or being between.
This is an album of transition, to be sure. The excellent opener “Crutch & Cane” finds Pisano grasping at the past. “Where is my childhood begging to, please, stay?” he howls on the track, and the falsetto of the chorus that follows drives home the yearning in this song, if not to go backwards, at least to find a familiar comfort as he’s cast into the unknown ahead. “Hard As Nails” follows with a sinister rumble, as Moen’s tom-work on the drums churns the song up, capturing all of its dark searching. That wish for childhood gone unfulfilled, Pisano trudged forward, weary but pushing forward.
Perhaps the most interesting thing the guys do on Inter-Be is to take the same elements and somehow create a wholly different atmosphere as the album moves along. Those early songs are all hollow coolness. The space around them is dark and haunting, but as we get to the brilliant middle of the record, things start to warm up. Shuffling drums and layers of shimmering guitar build “For Now” up into a pastoral haze, while “You’re So High” is a lazy, sun-drenched shuffle that anchors everything going on here—the past now far in the rearview, and the unknown still coming.
By the time we get to the lively thump of closer “In Response”, nothing is decided. The tomorrow that’s always on the horizon isn’t here yet, but the guys are stomping forward, the drums head-on, the guitar knocking out chords, the keys and backing vocals giving the track a shining size instead of a confused fog. It’s a wordless catharsis we come to, one that may take some figuring out over many listens, but that is the reward for this album. It’ll keep you coming back to pull out all it’s blurry emotions, and the tiny corners of these songs they hide in, over and over again.
Inter-Be is, in short, a success in every way. Even track titles—there’s one called “Untitled 101” and another “Demo 01”—imply a sort of path, a process for these songs. Make no mistake, though, this is not a work in progress. It is both path in themes and destination in how well those themes are executed. Pisano and Moen, as if they aren’t living enough in that “inter” space on this album, also prove themselves both excellent songwriters and noise-smiths. Songs devolve into the simple pleasure of layered, keening vocals. The most far-off hiss, the distant ringing of a single note on a piano, the light brush of a snare—they live in these details to pull out emotion and atmosphere, even as they craft tight pop songs full of sweet melodies and stick-in-your-head choruses.
So if the question is how do you stand out when you’re building a world between two places—between old sounds and new ones, between where you’ve been and where you’re going, between experiment and structure—it seems Peter Wolf Crier has the answer on Inter-Be. Just make your songs really, really good.