Heather Woods Broderick's Glider Soars on Wings of Melancholy.
There are many ethereal girl singers out there, their voices bathed in reverb, riding waves of tremolo guitar sustains. Don’t mistake Heather Woods Broderick for one of them. Rarely has a singer-songwriter so adroitly interpolated introspective songs with equally contemplative atmospheres and arrangements that honor pop formulas while taking them into a different dimension. Broderick bathes her heartfelt songs in dreamscapes of delayed guitar lines reminiscent of Michael Brook, embellished with even more guitars on top.
Born and raised in Maine, Broderick has been honing her craft for a while now. She has sung with artists like Sharon Van Etten, and worked with the bands Horse Feathers and Efterklang. She’s also the sister of underground Indie utility player, Peter Broderick, who contributes mightily to this album.
Heather Woods Broderick writes songs of loss, dissolution and loneliness on an album scattered with absent lovers and friends. But these aren’t clichéd break-up songs about relationships that ended in cataclysm, recriminations and anger. These relationships dissolved from neglect, distance and interests that took different paths.
“Up in the Pine” is a song to a lost friend or lover, someone who possibly didn’t make it through life and wound up in the pines, where Broderick leaves it to your imagination as to what exactly happened. This song also establishes the personalized mood of the album, with delayed guitar arpeggios and whispering choirs. Broderick has listened to a lot of shoegaze, new age and progressive players. Besides the aforementioned Michael Brook, you can hear the influence of The Cocteau Twins on “Wyoming” with Broderick’s double tracked voice layered against that Robin Guthrie-style delay guitar. It’s the perfect lament to a love that never was, like tour buses passing in the night.
Many of Broderick’s songs are about disconnection. On “Desert” she is unmoored as she sings about “an old man breathing in the room next to mine.” She could be home, as she says in the song, or she could be on the road, with that unique sense of displacement that every touring musician experiences.
Like Sufjan Stevens on his recent Carrie & Lowell album, Broderick’s arrangements are deceptively simple. What superficially sound like a folk songs, which she did play her earlier album, From the Ground, are actually roiling with complex atmospheres and textures underneath. There is a subtlety and depth to even her most bare-boned songs: “The Sentiments” starts like your standard piano and voice ballad, but Broderick takes you deeper in her lamentation for a lover who is slipping into the abyss, with string swells and pastoral flutes, that make her chorus heartbreaking and unforgettable.
There are lots of life decisions represented on Glider. The slurred vocals of “Mama Shelter” reveal ambivalence about her childhood home life: she thanks “the luck I’ve always had in starting up” but has “half a mind to move away and give it up.” Echoing percussion and synths that swirl in eddies add to her state of confusion and ennui.
“A Call for Distance” will be in my top ten songs for 2015. It begins with a prelude of tremulous strings and spacey single-note guitar twangs before slipping into a modal jazz groove, where she calls-out a plea that might be summed up in the line, “You choose to learn to loathe the ones you’ve loved.” It’s such a desolate, abandoned line, except Broderick’s melody is like a classical canon that keeps beckoning you in. The jazz groove shifts into ominous rock mode, with delayed guitar pitched against ethereal sustains that remind me of Robert Rich’s glissando lap steel guitar. She pairs it with her own soaring soprano choirs for a delirious effect. It is a song that luxuriates in melancholy and ambivalence.
The cover art of Glider might throw you off: it’s a photo of Broderick’s joyfully tipsy looking grandmother on her 80th birthday, dolled up in a white fur jacket, pink feather boa and red lipstick amidst her birthday banquet. Broderick reenacts that scene with the same clothes and setting on the back cover albeit with a much more demur pose. Like Broderick’s music, the cover is deceptive in its depth and layers of meaning. With Glider, Heather Wood Broderick has created one of the most enveloping and sustained song-cycles of 2015.