Peter Broderick gets around. The 23-year-old has played with M Ward, toured with Norfolk & Western and Horse Feathers and – most recently – was recruited to Danish alternative pop-masters Efterklang. However, he also has a large and varied back catalogue of solo material ranging from neo-classical to traditionalist folk.
In 2007, the album Home received critical acclaim and firmly plonked him into the consciousness of the British press. Here, by orchestrating songs based around an acoustic guitar and multi-layered vocal harmonies, Broderick achieved a similarly ethereal ambiance to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.
Those expecting more of the same harmony-laden, acoustic guitar-driven folk should take note that How They Are is a reversion back to Broderick’s classical roots, relying upon his principle instrument of choice, the piano. There are fewer overdubs than on Home and his voice is more naturalistic and less manipulated. By obscuring his voice in Home, he was able to hide his emotions behind a wall of sound. On How They Are, he allows himself to become vulnerable.
Broderick’s lyrics are starkly left open to criticism and each song hangs upon the sentiment he injects with his voice (which often appears without any musical accompaniment). For example, album opener Sideline begins with Broderick singing a cappella about his isolation: “But no one likes the guy who points from the sideline. I’ve been on the sideline a while”. It’s a vocal melody reminiscent of Paul Simon’s most heartfelt work.
The songs When I’m Out and Pulling The Rain rely simply on Broderick’s exquisite skills as a pianist, containing no vocals or any other instrumentation at all. The former is a poignant piece of work that envelopes the listener in the song’s emotional development. Pulling The Rain is more dramatic, injecting a bit of noise and a dark, foreboding character into the album’s second half. Here, Broderick’s background as a classically trained composer are welcomingly apparent.
Broderick also has an astute eye for the weird, and this comes out in his turn of phrase and use of intriguing imagery. Human Eyeballs On Toast is a curious enough title in itself, and the lyrics within are somewhat peculiar. “So every time I see a man, I dream about his face in frying pan”.
Broderick is a prolific musician, and he is currently over-extending himself as a writer, releasing copious amounts of material and collaborating with as many artists as possible, searching, perhaps for his magnum opus. How They Are is a stepping-stone in Broderick’s musical journey, and a landmark release in his already substantial catalogue. Like Home, it achieves the brilliance of balancing between pop sensibilities and something completely different: a neo-classical piece of work that is utterly relatable and completely charming.