Heather Woods Broderick: Glider
Talent clearly runs in the Broderick family. Not only has multi-instrumentalist Peter shared his abundant artistry with the world, now his sister Heather Woods Broderick carries on the tradition with Glider, her stellar follow-up to 2009's From the Ground. The Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter recorded the material with her brother, who also plays on the album along with Dave Depper (bass), David Allred (upright bass, trumpet), Eric Early (hammond organ on “Desert”), and Birger Olsen (electric guitar on “All For a Love”). On this nine-song collection of dreamy post-folk balladry (all composed by her), Heather eschews electronics and synthesized sounds for a pure acoustic presentation, with piano, guitars, bass, and drums the core.
Thematically, the songs deal with the tensions between stability, of the kind engendered by physical rootedness, family connections, and long-term relationships, and the freedom that comes from being an itinerant musician whose peripatetic lifestyle has forced her to call any number of different places home (the album is, after all, called Glider). It's an ambivalence succinctly conveyed during “Mama Shelter” when she sings “I thank the luck I've always had in starting up / But I got half a mind to move away and give it up.” As someone who's recorded and toured with Horse Feathers, Efterklang, and Sharon Van Etten, Broderick knows first-hand how hard it is to keep relationships going when long stretches of touring keep partners away from one another. These oft-wistful songs are suffused with melancholy, nostalgia, and even regret, with lines such as “We were young like everyone once / But, man, where's the time gone” indicative of the general tone. There's a stream-of-consciousness character to the lyrics that bolsters the informality of the recording, and Heather's writing at times verges on the strikingly poetic (“You heard it through the ether / A still riding, melancholic hue / You dreamt in light empyreal / Of my heart, would be coming home to you”).
That stream-of-consciousness feel extends into the music, too, as the songs rarely conform to the standard verse-chorus design; instead, they unfold in accordance with Heather's open-hearted sensibility, going where they naturally will and ending where they naturally should. “Up in the Pine” introduces the album entrancingly with Heather's fragile voice augmented by string flourishes that beautifully complement the gentle chug of acoustic guitar picking. Eight songs later, the album ends as hauntingly with the 6/8 lilt of “All For a Love,” a heartbreaking ballad that suggests Heather could make a name for herself in the country genre if she so desired. Though she could have dressed the songs in elaborate arrangements, Broderick often opts for simplicity. “Desert,” for example, is presented in a stripped-down arrangement of electric guitars and vocals and is all the more appealing as a result.
One of the more provocative songs, musically speaking, is “Mama Shelter” in the way dub bass lines and echo effects are incorporated into what's otherwise a folk setting, but the song's finally distinguished by its melodic hooks above all else. The most nakedly vulnerable setting is the piano-based “Fall Hard,” with its luscious swells of call-and-response vocalizing (“I don't know you / I'm not near you”). And while Glider has its share of ballads, there are loud moments, too, as shown when gauzy guitars stoke “Wyoming” to an hypnotic, shoegaze-level fever sure to appeal to fans of Grouper.
A world-weary quality is present, but Glider is anything but dispiriting. The album's ultimate message is more resilience than resignation, and as Heather herself attests, “Living in so many different places has made me able to feel pretty comfortable everywhere.” She's someone capable of turning a simply phrase such as “To live, to learn, to live, the ones, we grow” (“A Call For Distance”) into a stirring mantra of affirmation.