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Heather Woods Broderick - Glider (Album Review)

Thursday, 16 July 2015 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

The 'girls-with-guitars' pigeonhole has become an appalling cliché in recent years, both reductive and offensive. It would be particularly unfair to apply it in the case of multi instrumentalist Heather Woods Broderick, a veteran songwriter and bandmate of Sharon Van Etten, who conveys her Americana-influenced sound through arrangement more than anything else.

'Glider' is aptly named, given its tone. These aren't simply songs about love and loss on an acoustic guitar; these are ethereal bedroom ballads full of sonic depth and cloaked meaning. Broderick's voice is still the focal point, naturally, but she utilises it in an unorthodox way.

Floating high above the guitars and occasional weepy strings, her vocals compound the hazy mood. Drawn out, melancholy pieces like Mama Shelter and A Call For Distance are enhanced by the human quality she brings to them, intimately conveying loneliness in periodic bursts, albeit sometimes dipping behind the instrumentation.

At other points, the opposite seems to be true. Warm and cosy affairs Fall Hard and The Sentiments are counterpointed by Broderick's distant, reflective meanderings.

Though her lyrics are too vague and drawn out to be immediately accessible, the emotions are raw enough to latch onto. This effect adds depth to a lovelorn narrative that reveals itself as the album goes on.

As impressive as her taste for composition is, a lack of detectable character is what ultimately holds ‘Glider’ back in the long term. There's a couple of reasons for that. Broderick's lyrics are poetic but rarely revealing, preferring to keep the listener in the dark on the gritty details of her broken relationships, and many tracks simply aren't dynamic enough, Up the Pine most notably.

Broderick will undoubtedly be labeled as a singer-songwriter when it comes to it, but she feels more like an auteur. The pieces here are crafted with elegance and consideration – she has a special gift for chamber arrangements in particular, tastefully utilising piano and strings where appropriate – but the songs themselves rarely hit home with deep emotional impact.

What this record does have in abundance is atmosphere. 'Glider' is mood music that will appeal, say, on a long journey, when alone in the house or during a moment of reflection. There's grace and beauty to it. With a dash more insight, though, it could have been special.  

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