Peter Broderick: These Walls of Mine
Restless spirit Peter Broderick isn't content to let his estimable instrumental gifts speak for him alone, as the vocal-based project These Walls of Mine illustrates in striking manner. The ten-song outing is characterized by its creator as a collection of lyrical and vocal experiments “held together by dialogue of voices,” a phrase borne out by the fact that some of the lyrical content derives from others' contributions, be it a touching e-mail from his father (“Freyr!”) or from friends and strangers. For the lyrics of “When I Blank I Blank,” Broderick asked people to complete the sentence “When I _____, I _____, and my _____ is _____” (sample: “When I wake up, I start dreaming, and my day is perfect”), and for “I Do This,” he used responses from people online for the song's verses while using his own text for the choruses.
The recording has an intimate and homemade feel, in large part because Broderick is pretty much responsible for the recording in its entirety (Martin Heyne often joins in on bass guitar) but also because the vocals enable the listener to connect with him on a more immediate level. Musically, Broderick draws upon the acoustic folk tradition (“I Do This”), but there are also songs that reference funk and gospel. The album's most elaborate setting, sonically speaking, is “Copenhagen Ducks,” which incorporates a field recording of a marching protest band on the streets of Copenhagen, beatboxing, a loop of banging drums, and a chopped-up recording of Broderick talking into his dictaphone.
Some songs are beautiful. The opener “Inside Out There” has the feel of some imaginary Paul Simon-Brian Wilson collaboration, with Broderick's soft voice one of the swooning tune's most appealing features. Here and elsewhere, he fashions sparse arrangements from acoustic guitars and strings that support but not overpower the vocals. Presented as a lament with a subtle gospel character, “I've Tried” is an even lovelier creation, especially when the heartfelt vocal is heard against a caressing backdrop of strings (that gospel dimension is more overt in the call-and-response in the subsequent “Proposed Solution to the Mystery of the Soul”).
No song is as affecting as “Freyr!,” however, which uses an e-mail from Broderick's dad recounting the disappearance of the family cat as the song's text. Though its jaunty country skip gives the song a light-hearted breeziness, the sadness of the sentiments expressed lends the song a powerful emotional weight, as anyone who's lost a pet will attest. The song also neatly shows Broderick's imagination at work, with the first reading of the message delivered straightforwardly but followed by a second go-round that features him also singing the lines alongside the reading. As a result, the vocal expression of the title plays like Broderick calling the cat's name in the hope it might return.Though it more than earns its recommendation, These Walls of Mine isn't a perfect album. One misstep is “These Walls of Mine I,” whose words sans music come across like some well-intentioned poetry effort by a high school senior. One applauds Broderick for presenting himself so nakedly, but it doesn't quite come off, even if one acknowledges the sentiment contained in the lines “And even though I like to sing / I just think it's fun to try everything.” In Broderick's defence, the second version, “These Walls of Mine II,” fares better when the words are rapped and embedded within an aggressive strings-and-beatbox arrangement.