Multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick‘s second “proper vocal album” kicks off with a single muted piano note, the microphone positioned so close to the strings that you can hear the action of the hammer. It’s a signature sound that permeates the album and typifies Nils Frahm‘s delightfully lucid and honest approach to production. Likewise, Broderick’s not afraid to expose himself through his songwriting, having lovingly collated a scrapbook of songs that’s both intensely personal and occasionally a touch earnest.
The “it’s an album that’s also a website” concept is intriguing, and clearly fitting for an artist who wants to communicate as directly as possible with his listeners, though the schtick wears a little thin on the title track, with its bizarrely infomercial-like repetition of the website’s URL. The “living liner notes” actually prove to be indispensable, shedding light on the genesis of each song, many of which are borne out of events in his personal life. The album includes an affectionate reworking of a folk song his father penned as a teenager (happily re-discovered on an old cassette tape at a family get-together), a eulogy to guitarist Matthew Andre Brown (Asleep), who sadly passed away in 2008, and a song inspired by an exchange of love letters (A Tribute To Our Letter Writing Days).
If Broderick has a flaw, it might just be that he’s too damn likeable – the edgiest moment on the album comes on ‘Bad Words’, a song that was written following a conversation with a friend who accuses him of making music that’s “pleasing and pretty”, but “perhaps lacking something courageous”. In response, ‘Bad Words’ shows that he knows how to let a note hang – for a long time. This is perhaps the most charming aspect of his musical style – he knows that good musicians don’t try to fill up space, they create it. The track also features a very stylish little Fats Waller-esque piano solo from Nils Frahm.
The track ‘Colin’ exemplifies the sound that Broderick has been honing for some time (the album is the product of studio work that’s taken place over the last three years): finger-picked guitars and generous helpings of multi-tracked vocals, topped off with neo-classical flourishes. It’s a sound that leans towards sweet Sunday-morning music rather than edge-of-your-seat stuff.
Though certain songs on http://www.itstartshear.com are relentlessly consonant, Broderick is indisputably a generous-spirited and fearlessly creative musician whose songs are underpinned by a genuine humility. As he muses in the first verse of ‘It Starts Hear’, “I can’t be certain but I think / I have a lot to learn”. That may be true, but on the basis of this album he’s learnt a fair amount already.
Review by: David Price
07/03/12 Berlin at NEU! bar (DJ set w/ Nils Frahm!)
14/03/12 Berlin at NK (as part of the PORTRAITS ensemble)