Peter Broderick: 4 Track Songs

Anyone thinking of acquiring Peter Broderick's 4 Track Songs should know upfront that it's not new material but instead a re-issue of two volumes of early recordings. As such, the collection, while it has its moments, will appeal more to the Broderick completist than the listener hungry for that latest polished work from the gifted composer and multi-instrumentalist. With twenty-five tracks totaling fifty-three minutes, it's certainly a generous release, and its encompassing range does testify to Broderick's abundant gifts, as everything from vocal-based folk songs to piano instrumentals gets time in the spotlight. It's also lo-fi in the extreme, as the tracks were committed to tape using a cheap microphone and subsequently submitted to Type as two CD-Rs containing material produced prior to writing Float (4 Track Songs' material was in fact released before but not a single copy sold, prompting Broderick to distribute it amongst friends and relatives). Despite the crude production values, the collection nevertheless anticipates the caliber of work that would impress so much in his subsequent releases, and there's an intimacy and immediacy to 4 Track Songs that adds to its appeal. In some cases, the down-home recording style suits the material perfectly: the country blues of the untitled opener is pure front porch material, for example, while the banjo-and-violin setting “For Pop” exudes a natural backwoods feel.

4 Track Songs often comes across as the sound of Broderick trying different genres on for size to see how well they fit, with some doing so more successfully than others. In addition to at times feeling like a testing ground, the album also brings certain influences to the fore, with traces of Sufjan Stevens, Michael Nyman, and Yann Tiersen suggested by various tracks. “More of a Composition” is an affecting piano-and-strings waltz reminiscent of Tiersen's stately “La Valse d'Amélie”; “For Piano” and the piano-and-strings setting “Shortened Version (Mistake)” are Nyman-esque. Multiple songs feature Broderick in folk singer mode, including “For Dave,” which pairs vocals with harmonica wheeze and banjo picking, and “Three Cats,” which finds Broderick in troubador mode. There are pieces that sound like soundtrack auditions (two are even titled “A Current Soundtrack” and “A Former Soundtrack”), plus a trudging drone (“A Low End Rumble”), funereal dirge (“Jenn is Sick”), and a mournful strings interlude (“Nothing”). Titles tend to be self-descriptive in the extreme: “Piano & Rain” naturally finds Broderick playing a ponderous, Satie-esque miniature on an out-of-tune piano in the pouring rain, while “A Simple String Duet” recounts its mournful story in two minutes. Without a doubt, there are tracks of lesser note, such as “Walking/Thinking,” which finds Broderick underscoring conversation-laced tape recordings with a lazy hip-hop beat, and the fourteen-second, blink-and-you'll-miss-it “G Major.” At day's end, the release comes across as a mixed bag of sorts that, warts and all, shows Broderick at a chrysalis-like stage in his development.

October 2009