Peter Broderick – Colours of the Night
By Jon Hersh
If only all nervous breakdowns sounded so good. Colours of the Night is folk singer Peter Broderick’s first album since his three-years-in-the-making, avant-garde-pianist-Nils-Frahm-produced album “http://www.itstartshear.com” was released in 2012. Envisioned as an album that’s also a website (“and a website that’s an album”) the website featured interactive liner notes, a message board, in addition to a full album meticulously produced over three years. The high concept endeavor left Broderick drained, forcing him to cancel all tours in support of the album and leaving him with a short hospitalization stint for stress-related illness. Look upon my works, ye hipsters, and despair.
But then something unexpected happened. Broderick returned to his native Oregon to rebound his energy. His previous tours with Efterklang had taken him through the Swiss town of Lucerne, where he developed connections with local residents including Timo Keller, a producer and engineer known for his work in the Swiss hip-hop scene (yes there is such a thing). The town offered him a three-week recording residency at Keller’s studio. Given the abbreviated schedule, laborious overdubbing–of the type Broderick was most familiar with to craft his one-man intricate chamber-pop–would be impossible. In its stead, town residents were conscripted to fill in as a backing band, marking the first time in Broderick’s solo career he was willing to lose so much creative control. On this Broderick remarks, “it was exciting to let go a little bit, to simplify and consolidate my own role in the music.”
This takes us back to Colours of the Night. Starting where his previous album left off, the addition of a backing band is immediately apparent; his songs have a drive and just momentum absent on his previous releases. Lacking so much to do on the instrumental end frees Broderick up to focus on his vocals and arrangement. Broderick’s presence on the tracks is all the more indelible for it. His voice has never sounded better, nor more present, sitting densely in the mix like a paperweight on a down pillow.
It’s hard not to shake the chamber-pop tendencies of Efterklang that course through this album’s DNA. Where some songwriters may add vocal flourishes, Peter Broderick rummages through his bag of chamber-pop tricks, pulling out luscious strings, pounding drums, and probably some guy hitting a flugelhorn with mallets. Sonic ear-candy is practically this genre’s raison d’etre, and there’s plenty of surprising and sumptuous orchestration here. The saxophone on the breakdown of “Our Best” continues that instruments justified pop resurgence, and the earlier cascading strings enter just as my interest in that track begins to fizzle.
To the extent that the album falls short, it’s that Broderick stop short of real surprises. Peter Broderick is at his best when he’s outside of his comfort zone, such as on the intro to “If I Sinned” or on “Rotebode”. It’s often right when the song is getting to an unexpected place that he pulls back. Consider the gorgeous harmonic and sometime dissonant intro of “If I Sinned” and tell me those harmonies don’t deserve to continue for twice as long. You wish he had the courage of say Kid-A era Thom Yorke to take the song in mind blowing directions, but he suffices to let it die a simple death, frustrating listeners who glimpsed the fire ranging within the song, yearning for it to take us places we never expected it to go.
In the end, you already know if this album is for you. If you like chamber-pop, or delicately crafted folk-pop this album will be sonically mesmerizing. The casual listener might want to sit back and wait for Broderick’s next one, after he gets his mojo back.
Listen if you like: Efterklang, Jens Lekman, Thomas Dybdahl, Red House Painters, or if you played in your high school band and want to relive the magic.
Best time to listen: Saturday night, staying in while your friends are out having a good time.
Stream it? Definitely.
Buy it on Vinyl? If only to have a ready soundtrack for your own nervous breakdown.
Colours of the Night is out on Bella Union April 28th on CD, vinyl, and digital download.
Photo by Brandon Fernandez