With grace and humility, Heather Woods Broderick poetically and intelligently examines life’s frailty on her beautiful new album, ‘Labyrinth’.
Whether she’s supporting artists like Sharon Van Etten and Lisa Hannigan or singing songs from her first three albums, Heather Woods Broderick exudes grace and humility. Rarely will she be seen posing in elegant dresses or proudly pounding her chest. On the contrary, Broderick is often in contemplation, reflecting on the words of every song, assessing how each note elevates her stories, and considering the reaction of the audience. The multi-instrumentalist – who is a master of the cello, guitar, flute, synth, and piano – is very much the thinking person’s musician, and her fourth album, Labyrinth, is a beautiful and intelligent examination of life’s frailty.
Written mostly in 2021 and 2022, Broderick reflects on how the turmoil of the pandemic, wildfires across America’s west coast, and constant misinformation affected herself and her relationships. The album, as such, is as much as a sociological examination as it is a self-examination of one’s state of mind. And she does it with patience, grace, and humility.
On the record’s beautiful opening, piano-driven lament, “As I Left”, Broderick seeks to leave the madness of the city in favor of the comforts of the wilderness’ loneliness. The isolation, too, brings its own fears. “Driving west at night / Getting darker at the same time it’s getting light / I’m alone but not alone / Scared but I know… a way out,” she hushly sings, pointedly and poetically describing what she feels inside and what she sees beyond her windshield. This longing to escape is repeated on “I Want To Go”. A darker, more urgent tone emerges in the reverb-drenched guitar and tingling keys, but Broderick’s voice remains lush and controlled. She needs to be in order to retain her sanity in this quickly-evolving world.
The solemn “Tiny Receptors”, which features Hannigan on backing vocals, is Broderick at her most sincere and honest. Featuring mostly a lightly-strummed guitar and echoed keys, Broderick shares how a microscopic cell “holds my fire in the interim / Holds my love, my heart in safe keeping.” It is what keeps her from teetering over the edge. Broderick, however, does set foot in more interstellar realms, as “What Does Love Care” is a gorgeously restrained tune made for reunions and re-connections.
Labyrinth is more than just somber tracks, such as the cinematic epic, “Crashing Against The Sun”, displays. Through a gentle soundscape, Broderick contemplates how to deal with different realities before her. “There is a fleeting nature in definites / You always get diluted in time,” she sings. Gracefully, the song opens up, and through the breathtaking delirium Broderick wonders if “beauty as a life line / Is this the sort of thing inspires?” Pulsing beats and a stirring piano arrangement, meanwhile, drive the dramatic “Wherever I Go”. Sounding like the mix of The National and Sharon Van Etten, Broderick again maneuvers between fact and fiction, wondering if the view from space would yield different perspectives on life.
The album’s highlight exists in two songs. The stunning “Blood Run Through Me” moves with the patience of an individual slow dancing with the person they’ve loved for years, and they’re savoring every second. This fragility is heard in the feathery percussion, the light drones of the bass, and the piano and keys that gently mourn in the background. Broderick’s voice is equally vulnerable and tender, as she describes how she has become tired from constantly “running around” and chasing after “recurring scenes.” Now, all she wants to do is for her slow dance partner to join her and “find peace”.
There there is “Admiration”. With its stripped-back, minimalist approach, Broderick beautifully captures humanity’s vulnerability. Light beats flicker over a mournful, elongated synth, on which Broderick’s delicate voice floats. She shares her fears and memories that consume her. “Luck seems to be unraveling as the winds pick up / Fires inch their way to us,” she sings about the wildfires that separate her from the person she loves the most. These fires, however, are symbolic of the world not too very long ago, and they – and this song and the entire album – are a message to tightly hold on to the reality we know because it could vanish in an instance.
Labyrinth is out via Western Vinyl and available here or on Bandcamp.
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