Here's the bad news: Heather Woods Broderick is leaving Portland. She's moving to Copenhagen to be a fulltime member of the Danish band Efterklang, a weird neo-classical experimental pop group of which her brother Peter is also a member. Problem is, she doesn't speak Danish. The other problem is she's leaving us right after delivering From the Ground, her magnificent first solo record.
From the Ground exhibits a new side of Broderick, who's developed an impressive résumé for her cello playing, collaborating with Horse Feathers and the Portland Cello Project, among many others. But From the Ground is a collection of folk-pop songs she wrote on guitar and piano, linked by some pastoral ambient interludes; it's a record that exhibits so much grace, so much gentle charm and goodwill that it's hard to believe it's her first effort. "The title track was the first song I ever wrote," she says. "And that was about two years back—I basically did it as a funny project, and then it turned out pretty good so I kept it going."
The album was recorded in bits and pieces over the past two years at different houses around Portland with the assistance of her brother Peter, who produced the record and contributed violin, percussion, and other instruments. Peter is a prolific solo artist in his own right, and the two would lay down tracks whenever he passed through Portland. They both share an upbringing in classical music and have played together in various bands for years, so the collaboration was natural.
"I really love doing strings and things with him because I feel like we hear the same types of harmonies," says Broderick, "so it's a lot less work with him than it is with other people. There are just a lot of things that can go unsaid. Peter listens to a lot more music than I do, and he's really good with projects, being focused and figuring them out from start to finish."
It's Broderick's songs, though, that make From the Ground so exceptional. Beginning with a plainspoken piano figure, the album moves, suite-like, through a range of subtly entrancing moods and tones, including the calico-folk of "Cottonwood Bay" and the mournful, deliberate strum of "The Colors." An extended instrumental called "For Misty" plays like a heartwarming, open-windowed version of Grouper's gorgeous claustrophobia, while the conclusion of the record's final track, "Old Son," is like waking from a dream, with fragmented phrases of cello and violin dispersing like clouds gently broken apart by a slow-moving wind. It's a ravishing, terrific, gorgeous album—the rare kind that throws its listeners into reverie.
Broderick plans to record a second album once she accumulates enough songs, but apart from her Portland show, she doesn't currently have plans to tour behind From the Ground. "I don't feel like I have a consistent enough setup yet to do it," she says. "I don't have a band and I really don't want to sit behind a guitar and play by myself, mostly because I wrote the record with all of this space in it for all the other instruments. The show I'm playing here before I leave, my friend Eric [Earley] from Blitzen Trapper is going to accompany me. But I think if I was going to do something like a whole tour, I would want to figure out something a little more permanent."