It’s not something people boast about, but we misremember things all the time. It’s not necessarily forgetfulness; it’s not quite experiencing false memories, but it is labouring under the illusion that we know something when we don’t. At least, we don’t know it well enough. Usually, we get away with it, as most information is only a couple of clicks away. So it was a surprise when our friends at Dauw sent us the press release for Heather Woods Broderick’s new album Domes – announcing it as her ‘first entirely instrumental work.’ Was it, we thought – don’t you want to check that? Surely, in our minds, she has released an instrumental album previously. Thankfully we cross-reference details like this before firing off correctional emails. For yes, Domes sees Broderick putting the lyric notebooks to one side and enveloping us in a rich, warm instrumental album.
A singer and musician gifted with playing numerous instruments, Broderick is in demand as a player. She’s played live and recorded with the likes of Efterklang (alongside brother Peter), Alela Diane, and Sharon Van Etten. Of course, the pandemic stopped touring overnight, so for many musicians reliant on playing live there was suddenly a lot of free time and not a lot of income. During these anxious times, Heather Woods Broderick picked up her cello and began a series of meditative improvisations. It was a way to develop her technique, providing a daily focus and shutting out the extraneous noise for a few minutes. It’s very much this spirit of grace and acceptance that inhabits Domes.
The seven pieces build from looping drones, and there’s a consciously cyclical approach to the improvisation. There’s a sense of rising and falling, ebbing and flowing throughout. The pulse that feels at first like breathing slowly gradually builds in intensity across the pieces. While the opening “Figura” retains an airy feel throughout, tracks later on, such as “Tor” and “Caracol,” carry greater density. There’s a detectable flow throughout Domes that allows us to construct a narrative. The further along we go, the heavier the music becomes until the lightness returns on the closing track, “The Bluff.”
Although Domes dabbles in light and shade, ultimately, it feels like a hug from a much-missed friend. There’s a real sense of empathy and understanding in these pieces. They convey emotions that lyrics would struggle to express. It’s entirely up to Heather Woods Broderick if she chooses to pursue this direction of cello loops and solo improvisations, but we would encourage her to explore it further. Hopefully, there will be opportunities down the road that allow time and space to create more work like this without a pandemic lurking in the background. Domes is an emotional journey, but, reaching its end, it comforts and uplifts. We’re probably showing our bias towards instrumental music here, but this is Heather Woods Broderick’s finest work. (Jeremy Bye)