When Sharon Van Etten launched a tour last year a few weeks before releasing Are We There, her band included Heather Woods Broderick on backing vocals and keyboards. Broderick was a supporting player, but her role was obviously high-profile: in concert, as on the album, her ethereal harmonies sweetened Van Etten’s anguished leads, and their voices blended into a heart-stopping whole.
Singing with Van Etten is just one of several gigs for Broderick, who has also worked with Horse Feathers, Efterklang Laura Gibson and Alela Diane. Now the Maine native is back with her second solo album, her first since 2009’s From the Ground. Glider is a road record in the sense that Broderick spends so much time traveling that there’s not much else it could be. It’s a low-key album, full of subtle musical textures that ebb and flow around her voice for an effect that can be hypnotic at its best. Broderick sings in wispy tones on “Wyoming,” layers of vocals stacking up until a low, droning brass part disperses them as the rhythm builds in intensity. Closing track “All for a Love” unfolds slowly, with understated glimmers of guitar twisting around a simple drum part while Broderick’s murmuring vocals echo, as if she’s on one side of a large, empty space, softly singing an arresting melody to a microphone on the other side.
Sometimes, though, the songs don’t unfold enough. Opener “Up in the Pine” bobs on a wash of guitar and keyboards, and while it’s pretty, there’s no momentum. And unfortunately, that’s something of a recurring theme. “Fall Hard” is minimalist to the point of miasmatic, with a piano motif and vocals that drift into a call-and-response chorus that never fully emerges from the gloom. Two songs later, “The Sentiments” wallows in melancholy, the song idling in place with spare piano chords and Broderick’s reverb-soaked vocals as she dissects crumbled intimacy with lyrics oblique enough to double as Zen riddles.
Broderick is a talented singer with a knack for moody atmospherics, and it makes for a compelling sound when it works. But for all its textural beauty, Glide too often does what the title suggests, with songs that float by without really sticking.