With two solo albums and collaborations with the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Heather Woods Broderick has become far more than a folk singer-songwriter. Her ethereal singing and luscious arrangements seamlessly blend ambient music, chamber pop and acoustic balladry. And her latest album, Invitation, takes a more personal turn. Conceptualized on the Oregon Coast where she grew up, Broderick presents a retrospective and introspective journey beyond the noise of everyday life. Its gorgeous instrumentation, tangible lyricism and soothing singing make for panoramic view of formative memories and profound lessons.
Lead single “Where I Lay” provides a compelling summation of what Invitation brings to the table. Out of dissonant layerings of what sounds like accordion, Broderick’s vivid lyrics paint a striking picture of the scenery that inspired her. Her heavily layered harmonies evoke an angelic choir, gliding over the verse’s echoing piano chords and the chorus’s explosion of shimmering guitars and distorted synth bass.
Broderick’s poetic lyricism takes a vulnerable turn on “White Tail,” shedding light on her struggles with depression and longing for times long gone. Earthy tribal percussion brings to mind a drum circle on the coast (Oregonians shun the word “beach”), but ends up propelling a folky bounce. Synthetic ornamentations, warm bass drones and spectral vocalizations fill out the song’s raw core. It could easily break down to catchy acoustic guitar, but Broderick values atmosphere above familiarity.
Instrumental interlude “A Daydream” and the closing title track prove Broderick’s knack for building an immersive mood. The former’s piano and guitar chords drift like the salty breeze, punctuated by metallic creeks and field recordings of crickets chirping. The crickets return on the latter, accentuating the tension she builds as as each phrase trails off into a spectral drone with no predictable downbeat. Broderick has no problem with distancing herself from traditional songwriting in order to create convincing images in the mind’s eye.
Heather Woods Broderick’s detailed electro-acoustic arrangements reach spellbinding proportions; exemplified on album opener “A Stilling Wind.” Acoustic guitar-picking and drizzling keyboard become the tapestry for soaring string arrangements. An inventive rhythmic layering structure takes shape as Broderick’s voice blends into the instrumentation and guides with resonant emotion. Even “These Green Valleys,” which finds its footing with a lo-fi beat loop and dreary soundscapes, is able to transition into a glacial ballad. The amount of layers reaches intoxicating levels, but never at the expense of Broderick’s emotive melodies and heavenly vocals.
While broad in scope, Invitation lives up to its name by offering personal perspectives on gorgeous vistas. The plodding drums and spiralling piano trills of “I Try” and the bobbing Americana swing of “Nightcrawler” balance accessible chord progressions with Sigur-Rós-like attention to texture and are inconspicuous. Broderick’s music is deep enough for post-rock, yet catchy enough for a coffeehouse playlist. Even a soft-spoken number like “Slow Dazzle” achieves incredible bombast without drums or guitar by tactfully dealing its hand of orchestral crescendos and harmonious vocals. This tasteful expansiveness suits Broderick’s words well as she delves into relatable themes through esoteric imagery.
“Quicksand” and “My Sunny One” deal with the respective themes of alcoholism and failed relationships, but Broderick likes to shroud her personal anecdotes in metaphorical mists. The lack of overt clarity allows the storytelling and musicality to work symbiotically, rather than one overbearing the other. The songs journey from minimal synth notes and trickling piano to breathtaking, vibrant sonic landscapes. Invitation is as approachable as it is spectacular, making it the best of both aspects of Broderick’s musicianship.
Moody and somber, yet elegant and majestic, Invitation is a truly multifaceted experience. The album has wordplay and melodious singing to spare, but excursions into immaculate soundscapes and striking dynamics elevate it above a simple collection of songs. Its enveloping tones pave an scenic path through Broderick’s outer and inner world.