By Mark Abraham | 17 June 2008
Peter Broderick’s a member of Horse Feathers, he plays live with Efterklang, and he’s already done a mini-album called Docile (2007) which collected a series of solo piano pieces. Float is far more ambitious in scope, a track-divided-but-single piece that deploys Broderick’s extensive instrumental skills wonderfully, allowing him to show off his skills on piano, violin, viola, cello, celeste, banjo, saw, theremin, accordion, drums, trumpet, bass, and electronics.
Which is impressive, yes, but many of these tracks are piano-driven works that are complemented by the other instrumentation, which means this piece is far more insular than the dramatic orchestration might suggest. That’s not a bad thing, of course; Broderick excels at deftly weaving a dense palette into compact, gorgeous sections that spool together into an emotional whole—much like Jóhann Jóhannsson or Max Richter—though he’s not necessarily up to the same game in terms of his actual sound. He’s not as blustery as Jóhannsson, for one; his ideas stay compact and he executes them with engaging restraint. “Floating/Sinking,” for example, is as the title says, and the way he allows the soaring notes to swing and fall around delicate piano phrasings is fascinating. He also features vocals on some of the tracks, although in the case of “A Glacier” singing means light mimicking of his piano chords as they rise and fall in velocity, surging beneath a wonderful string arrangement as if the notes themselves could crack ice. “Another Glacier” features actual lyrics despite beginning austerely; they blend with the groaning strings to a point, but they hint at vague pop mannerisms above the thick music that backs them.
Cold, ice, snow: these are images throughout Broderick’s work, though I think pushing them too far into some kind of overriding imagery ruins the experience a bit. Like, do we really need another modern classical interpretation of winter? That said, glaciers can also be taken here as obstacles for his warmer instrumentation to find ways around and through. The other theme here is patterns, both in terms of the momentum they create and the consequences of breaking them or stopping. The music on “Float” rises and falls in tempo, in velocity, in humor, and in volume. Tracks often stop like half-remembered visions before another track reinterprets the same emotion. “Stopping on the Broadway Bridge” is only the most obvious evidence of this technique: throughout the sound of a pall of grinding strings is modified by the instrumentation around it—especially that banjo whirring away beneath like there’s just fog at the country fair or something.
The most interesting (and probably best) track here is “Broken Patterns,” which finally adds percussion to the mix. This is the track that doesn’t float; instead, the various instruments hit on alternating beats, their stresses muddling the piano’s 4/4 count. The track builds beautifully, and Broderick takes his time with nice little segues and bringing the banjo in, intuitively understanding how each instrument changes the dynamic of the song. And that’s really true of the entire album; each instrument represents a kind of emotion or feel that functions in the space of this album, and it carries that feel with it straight through each section of the piece. As a result, even if Float doesn’t always seem incredibly substantial, it’s constantly engaging and beautiful.