Having worked with an esteemed crowd of artists including She & Him, Horse Feathers and Efterklang, there are few better examples of the serial collaborator than Peter Broderick. His rich environment of musician friends is also reflected in much of his work by very deliberate, lush production and subtle layering; Peter’s solo records often sound collaborative even when they’re not, and likewise, when he contributes to the music of another, it often sounds like it’s been touched by a thousand hands, rather than just the extra two.
It is from this frame of reference that How They Are, despite being a minor stepping stone in his catalogue, becomes the greatest of curiosities. In December 2009 Broderick suffered a serious knee injury, consigning him to bed and crutches for several months, robbing him of the territory that once defined him so well. Written during that very period, the record lifts the delicate Broderick melodies and classicism from a social context into a solitary one.
As early as the opening track, he laments this new status as an onlooker (“there is something we’re all stuck with / and I have tried to point it out / but no-one likes the guy who points from the sidelines / I’ve been on the sideline a while”). These first ninety seconds, incidentally, are achingly beautiful, and delivered in a devastating, stark a cappella. Later tracks rarely extend beyond a bare template of voice and piano, revelling in a minimalist approach to both, while the true complexities are mostly lyrical (a track named ‘Human Eyeballs On Toast’ should, perhaps unfortunately, speak for itself). It is this intimate, simplistic approach that is both the greatest strength and weakness of the album. The instrumental ‘Pulling The Rain’ is a stirring and hypnotic summoning of the heavens, for instance, but elsewhere the repetition drags a little, and his use of melody, when not pulling at the knots in your stomach, is occasionally lazy.
Despite these failings, How They Are is still a very worthwhile journey. It won’t sustain as much attention as his breakthrough Home, but it deserves an equally loving and tender ear. After all, Peter Broderick has never sounded this lonely and broken before, let alone quite so liberated.