Yet another interesting musical spawn of Portland, Oregon, Peter Broderick is a singer/songwriter, but also a composer in a post-rock sense, operating in an indie music sphere but writing pieces which are classical in inspiration. He is a member of the touring band of the melodic and experimental Danish collective Efterklang, lives in Copenhagan for that reason, and is a prolific collaborator. M. Ward, Library Tapes, Horse Feathers, Soccer Committee and Machienfabriek have all availed of his input.
He is part of the field of popular music which embraces elements of modern classical, yet also crosses over with the artier end of rock, folk and so on. At the commercial peak of this would reside, say, Radiohead, who overtly synthesised and incorporated elements of an indie underground (the output of labels like Thrill Jockey, Constellation and Warp) which had earlier drawn varied inspiration from modern classical, jazz and electronic subcultures. The cultural condition of postmodernism allows this to happpen, for an abundance of references to coexist without the centered subject of a modernist discourse; intertextuality ist rad, essentially. Broderick seems to actively delineate between his influences on record, saving separate spheres for his Mark Kozelek/Nick Drake songs and his purely instrumental, artier music, whilst apparently dividing his sets between both live.
His latest, a 30-minute work for a contemporary dance piece entitled Falling From Trees, is a sequence of interconnected parts, conforming loosely to the narrative of writer Adrienne Hart. Set in a psychiatric hospital and in the context of a struggle for identity, the work segues from track to track without a sense of disjuncture. In fact, the combined effect of “Pill Induced Slumber” followed by “The Dream” at the midpoint is stunning. The former is a Steve Reich-esque piece with relentless, overlayered strings which are underscored by treated-sounding, reverberating piano bass notes. The low end gradually usurps the violins’ structured melody, and disjointed fragments emerge at the close (the strings, according to the writer, are intended to mimic the role of the nurses). Broderick mentioned in an interview in May 2008 that he is largely self-taught on piano, and loves the full, rich sound he can glean from it. You definitely get this sense. Then, trinkling out of “Pill Induced Slumber”‘s collapse, “The Dream” begins melodically and atmospheric, vague and spacey like ambient Eno or parts of Agaetis Byrun-era Sigur Ros, before melding into a duel of delicately plucked strings and piano. There is an element of jauntiness, but offset by the swells of synth strings which threaten to subsume the song’s space.
Music for Falling from Trees is somewhat reminiscent of Arcade Fire offshoot the Bell Orchestre’s debut album, yet it succeeds in being more of a set work, and has fewer indie signifiers, even with background noise and fuzzily mic-ed strings. You get the sense that Broderick is more focused on constructing a work rather than playing around with classical instrumentation. It reminds me of nothing so much as early Penguin Cafe Orchestra with a little less whimsy, and more of a desire to engage your emotions. And it works. This trait comes across as a little mawkish on the closing track, but it’s a small quibble. Play this record on good headphones; Broderick is certainly one to watch.