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Posted on July 8th, 2015 (2:00 pm) by Michael Negron

“Heather Woods Broderick is a Portland gal making delicate ambient-folk accentuated by airy, beautiful vocals.”

That’s the sentence I’ve come up with after about two hours of struggling to find the words to properly convey the backdrop to Glider. I was going to say something along the lines of “that sentence has about five different stereotypes in it, and yet you probably didn’t associate any of them with Broderick,” and then I’d probably throw in a reference to her time as Sharon Van Etten’s backing band – in addition to at least four other acts – but let’s face it, you’ve lost interest already. So let’s instead eschew the malarkey of convention here for something more to the point, as that’s related to what Glider, and Broderick as an artist, does best: that realm of working within tropes, rather than ridding herself of them altogether. The balance there is as subtle as her songwriting and, for better or worse, defines the majority of Glider.

This is something that’s carried over from 2009, when she released her first – and only – preceding album, From the Ground. You’d think that 6 years would mark some pretty substantial changes, and it would be wrong to say that’s entirely untrue. Glider features a guitar-centric and percussive sound, detracting somewhat from what some have said is one of Broderick’s most distinctive qualities – her preference for piano.

That’s not exactly an odd choice for a main instrument; piano and pop music goes hand in hand after all, but from a sampling of “Fall Hard,” one of this album’s few piano-focused tracks, it’s clear that she’s doing something different with it – and it likely has to do with that ambient influence. “Ambient” isn’t just an excuse to throw reverb on the vocal and guitar tracks and call it a day; Broderick has a knack for taking an over-saturated, even cliché sound and doing something different, often through meticulous songwriting with as much of an emphasis on the architecture of the sound as the composition or melody. Maybe it’s the wash of vocal harmonies, the atmospherics, the perfect pacing that refuses to become an anthemic crescendo, or something else altogether, but the result is exactly that middle ground she looks to achieve.

That’s why it’s so surprising that she’s taken the direction she has. The first track, which is a pretty accurate representation of what you’re in for going forward, starts straightaway with an acoustic guitar riff; it’s actually pretty amazing that she can somehow make using acoustic guitar a daring move in indie folk. Some tracks are captivating (“A Call For Distance”), others forgettable (the title track), but most fall into a pleasant lull, and all of them follow a distinct lead in the vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, or some mix thereof, save for one absolutely stunning exception: “Wyoming.” It’s rare to have a track so ahead of the rest of an album that it predicts what should be the trajectory for the next album, but “Wyoming” is that: it masters her understated, guitar-driven ambient folk, and then transitions into full-blown rock, distortion and all, stripping away the delicate without sacrificing the beauty.

While it’s a shame that Glider isn’t more “Wyoming”-esque, it’s also unfair to say that it’s the only worthwhile track; really, all the tracks contribute something, but it’s that toeing the line of the cliché that really keeps it from becoming something greater. “Wyoming” is Broderick breaking the fourth wall stylistically, making commentary on our expectations of her work and subverting them all at once. While that’s hardly a prerequisite for good music, it’s strangely effective, and leaves a somewhat unfulfilled want for more.

Track List:

  1. Up in the Pine
  2. Mama Shelter
  3. Fall Hard
  4. Wyoming
  5. The Sentiments
  6. A Call For Distance
  7. Desert
  8. Glider
  9. All for a Love
Heather Woods Broderick - Glider
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

68 / 100
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