Peter Broderick’s 2008 Home was one of the most affecting releases of the year, a sunset commingling of multi-tracked vocals and folky arpeggios evoking both campfire intimacy and autumnal decay. Come year-end its crayoned cover peered omnipresent from critics’ best-of lists, whilst last month’s fragile, understated Green Man performance saw grown men blinking tears from their eyes.
4 Track Songs is a much rawer proposition, essentially a collation of demos and ideas that provide us with further insight into Broderick’s songwriting and recording practices. As the title suggests there’s little in the way of production here, with static and crackle and, in second track Piano and Rain, the weather acting as a backing band; one song runs atop snatches of conversation between Broderick and a friend, quite unaware that her small-talk is set to be distributed worldwide.
It’s less an album than fifty-two minutes of ideas, a slightly more evolved version of the lo-fi recordings of riffs and tunes that everyone who plays an instrument has sat gathering dust next to their amplifiers, with the difference that these actually warrant listening to. There’s scarcely a review of Peter Broderick in existence that doesn’t drown in its own gushing – ‘nothing short of a genius’ enthused The Fly last year – and certainly there will be some who view this release primarily as an opportunity to trace his development as a musician, but 4 Track Songs is more than just a time-capsule. Whilst there’s little here to qualify as a ‘full’ song, and certainly nothing of the grandeur of Home’s It’s Alright, taken as a whole the album works to showcase Broderick’s considerable innovation and multi-instrumental talents.
Yet whilst the cover depicts a range of guitars it’s his piano and violin that take the fore here, layers of strings and minor keys weaving a melancholy that makes this a far darker release than it’s predecessor. With the notable exceptions of Looking/Thinking and (untitled), which could have come straight off of Home, it’s the sparse, moody arrangements of Broderick’s debut album Float that this collection most recalls, or for the dedicated fans the truncated compositions of his Tour E.P. There are some marked progressions, though, with extracts of television audio low in the mix evoking Come On Die Young-era Mogwai, the naked drumming of Walking/Thinking more post-rock than folk.
There’s little in the way of song development here, nor any real attempt at sequencing – songs lurch between instruments and genres, their styles as disparate as their titles and their running lengths – yet there’s a charm here rarely found in music. Perhaps it’s the intimacy with its subject that this album grants, or the maturity still evident within tracks that are, in most cases, mere embryos. Maybe it’s the way that strip-mining it for ‘hits’ as iTunes has taught us to is so utterly redundant here: you either listen to the whole album or none of it, but it’s those who opt for the former that are rewarded. This is beautiful music and, whilst by no means a classic album – nor even a particularly great introduction to the man – it’s clear evidence that those gushing reviews are not going to stop.