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"How They Are"

Peter Broderick – How They Are
13 September 2010, 10:00 Written by Chris Tapley

According to Marcel Marceau “Music and silence combine strongly because music is done with silence, and silence is full of music”. I read this quote recently and although initially I wasn’t sure how to interpret the clumsy phrasing, I immediately liked the sentiments which it seemed to express. Silence is full of the kind of tiny idiosyncratic sonic shifts which epitomise great music, the bottomless echo of subtly unravelling layers can make silence the most poignant of sounds when captured within the right context; it becomes another instrument, a new and powerful means of expression. Peter Broderick pretty much nails the context on How They Are to provide arguably his most emotive work to date. This ‘stop-gap’ mini-album was, unusually for Broderick, built entirely around the lyrics, which were written during a period of recuperation following knee surgery late last year. After finding inspiration in the words themselves he set about providing them with simple instrumentation free from electronic trickery.

I don’t want to overstate the use of silence here but there is a very spacious quality to the production. Even in it’s few more frantic moments it’s as though the sounds are simply piercing the solemnity, like the noise of something clattering to the ground in an empty church. This image is certainly in line with the relatively confessional nature of Broderick’s lyrics here, like he is excising his demons with the only the most delicate of paeans accompanying his catharsis. The most striking example is on opening track Sideline, the first 90 seconds of which is entirely a’capella; it’s a bold opening gambit from someone predominantly known for instrumental works but it makes the first disparate piano chords infinitely more beautiful when they do arrive. The track’s minimal arrangement is a pleasure to behold, and most artists would struggle to wring such emotion from so few elements. The deft lyricism excels things though, with which there seems to be a sense of isolation communicated throughout; “No one likes the guy who points from the sideline / and I’ve been on the sideline a while”. Similarly on ‘Hello to Nils’ (presumably a reference to friend and collaborator Nils Frahm) he bemoans what seems his lack of a consistent home “First I’m here and then I’m there\then I’m here and then I’m there…. I say goodbye too often”. A drop in to complete silence for a good ten seconds or so later in the track serves to heighten the emotional impact of these lyrics even further on their return.

The tracks here manage to combine the more accessible arrangements of material on Home with the cinematic sense of expression which was most apparent on ballet score Music For Falling From Trees. The rich piano of ‘When I’m Out’ builds subtly to something approaching a crescendo, with the more frenetic melody being reminiscent of Chily Gonzales’ Solo Piano work albeit with a touch more delicacy. Whilst ‘Guilt’s Tune’ allows an outlet for Broderick’s more folky tendencies with a tender picked guitar line underpinned with spacious piano, which offers the perfect canvas to espouse a spoken word piece. The brief allegorical tale of a woman attempting to apologise to a duck for spitting in it’s face demonstrates a wry humour but is also shot through with a sense of pathos and ties in with the sense of isolation expressed elsewhere to form a strangely evocative piece.

Alongside his work over the last year with the likes of Efterklang, She & Him and Machinefabriek this has shown yet again that Broderick is capable of turning his hand to many musical forms, and whilst he may only be a relatively minor footnote in popular music culture right now, I feel his influence and the regard in which his music is held can only continue to increase over time. With his apparent new love for lyricism How They Are may well be an important point in this fruitful career and I would advise anyone to join the rapidly expanding group of fans who seek out everything he does, because frankly he’s yet to release a single thing which could be considered anything less than wonderful.


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