Wednesday, 7 March 2012

REVIEW: Peter Broderick - ''

*Originally published for the Oxford Music Blog (7/3/12)

‘The website that is an album, an album that is a website. It’s kind of like liner notes that are alive.’ This is Peter Broderick's experiment. From the album’s URL title, it wouldn’t be out of the question to sense some pretension. But pretentious it is not. In fact, what lies in this cyber-space is a collection of very personal and honest songs, each accompanied by visuals and simple explanations of their compositions. Broderick urges you to criticise or praise or say anything about the tracks, so here are my thoughts.

Anthropomorphism is an immediate and recurring theme, evidenced in album opener, ‘I Am Piano’, and the following track, ‘A Tribute To Our Letter Writing Days.’ The stark, monotonous notes of the piano in the former are lifted by a family of intricate violin lines, elementary marimba notes and Broderick’s balmy vocals. His liner notes offer an alternative definition of piano: ‘soft; subdued’, and it becomes apparent that he is introducing this aspect of his personality. The composition sounds like a movie soundtrack, with the layered instruments quietly carrying a protagonist on a journey of discovery.
The latter track also flows with autobiographical content, in which Broderick personifies the lovelorn letters between himself and an ex-lover, “Read me, read me over and over.” Call-and-response singing, rattling acoustics, and a gentle melodica give the song both a grassy Americana and French feel – perhaps representing the foreign distances between the two singers –but, interpretation aside, it is a wonderfully humble love song.

These songs of innocence are completely counteracted by ‘Asleep’ at the album’s core. Explicitly stated as a tribute to the death of a friend in a kayaking accident, ‘Asleep’ escapes the self-concerned nature of the aforementioned tracks. Broderick requested that people from all over the world send him recordings of themselves reciting the song’s lyrics, as if, he explains, “this great loss could be felt by everyone everywhere.” A trickling guitar and fog drone evoke distressing imagery, lilting below an array of voices that interlock in collective mourning. Swarms of choral harmonies enter, clashing and marrying with one another, expressing confusion, lament and anger in the face of death. It’s devastatingly moving.

The oddest moment on the record comes in the form of ‘It Starts Hear’. The track is built around a clicking beat made by a tapped guitar pick-up, with a plodding bass line, staccato strings, and Broderick talking in robotic, abstract verse. The chorus strangely spells out, '', and it is nothing but humorously reminiscent of a cheesy jingle for a provincial radio station.

Broderick pays homage to art for art’s sake in, ‘With The Notes On Fire.’ Fittingly, the track’s notes and melodies are exactly that; they have an urgency, with fingers running over guitar strings, vibraphone notes jumping across Broderick’s hails and bongo drums rolling unstoppable rhythms. It is glorious and completely uplifting, just like the hands that pick up the dejected spirit in, ‘Blue.’

Originally a song written by Broderick’s father, ‘Blue’ is the most delicate track on the record and yet it is the one that speaks the loudest. Its lyrics are simple and universal in appeal: “You better realise then what’s hurting you. Or it will keep you blue, so blue,”; its gently-picked folk guitar immediately arresting and the slight delay on the vocals warmly consoling.

Peter Broderick has penned a subtle and gorgeous record that retains the grounded feel of a handwritten letter, yet he has somehow achieved this through a digital medium. A striking effort overall and an open gaze into the future of our listening habits.


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