Canadian violinist/composer Sarah Neufeld is best known in her capacity as a member of Arcade Fire. Sarah is releasing her second solo album, The Ridge on February 26th as a follow up to her debut solo album, Hero Brother. Her solo work defies classification, but is best described as minimalist modern classical. She is adept at creating textured sonic vistas that are vastly enjoyable for the listener.
Neufeld has been in the orbit of Arcade Fire since “Funeral” on which she was a contributing member. She became a core member of the band during the “Neon Bible and The Suburbs” eras of the band, and continued to contribute on “Reflektor”. She has also appeared supporting the band on tour throughout their existence. Never one to stand still Neufeld is also a founding member of the contemporary instrumental ensemble Belle Orchestre which also includes contributors and former members of Arcade Fire. Last year she partnered with renowned saxophonist Colin Stetson releasing and touring their joint release Never Were the Way She was. Her influences certainly impact her music and range from Bartok, Steve Reich, Iva Bittova, to Arthur Russell. The results are classical sensibilities informed by electro acoustic, avant folk and indie rock.
The release of The Ridge continues the fine rhythmic modern classical sound of Hero Brother but takes a step away from the structural minimalism of that release. The Ridge is an oscillating journey through textured sound-scapes. An added feature to this collection is Sarah’s vocalizations and her Arcade Fire comrade Jeremy Gara’s stellar drums which add intensity and another dimension to the tracks.
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The title track The Ridge opens with icy strings and is transcendent with its atmospheric evocative feeling. The drums act as an anchor for the rest of the energy in the track to center around. It is delightfully composed. We’ve Got A Lot has a folk feeling and is a punchier track. Here again the drum really centers the track as it impels it forward. There is also a nice interplay between Neufeld’s ethereal vocalizations and the growling bottom range in the musical accompaniment. The repeated coda breaks at one point to feature the intense strings making for an engaging listen.
The brief They All Came Down acts as a prelude for The Glow which is a larger composition on the release. The Glow is a capricious and playful track. It has an almost oriental feel with the pizzicato strings in the first part of the track. The song is simple and unmuddled. The beat has tribal echoes and comes in as the song fully launches and feels both familiar but unique. Within the track is an intricate back and forth between the percussion element and the strings which mirror the rhythm. It is a swirling composition with both modern and classical elements. The mood within the song is also changeable with a bright sunny day at the beginning changing over to a darker more dramatic atmosphere by the last third. It entangles the listener in its beauty and complexity.
Chasing the Bright and Burning Light can be likened to an ambient tribal incantation. It is insistent and captures the imagination. The other longer track on the album is A Long Awaited Scar which in many ways seems like a journey through a storm. It is unsettling and dissonant as the track builds from the solo violin intro into the rumble of the drum. There is a suspense that lingers until the composition lets loose at the half way mark and everything falls into place. It becomes anathematic and majestic with a neo folk flare and is not to be missed.
There is something distinctly soulful in From Our Animal as Neufeld taps into her emotions through the beautiful constructs of the song. This selection leads into the lovely sign off to the release, Where the Light Comes In. Here is a more melancholy selection which is exquisitely haunting and again seems to convey deep emotions. The release is a perfect accompaniment to the beginnings of spring with all of its energy and intensity.
The Contemporary Classical genre is not every music aficionado’s cup of tea. However The Ridge is contemporary classical music engaging at a high level of excellence. The entire album features Neufeld’s remarkable violin playing abilities and they are impeccable. The songs on the release blend all of her skills. She has a firm grasp on her ability to convey emotion and connect to her inner soul depicting those emotions over a majestic sonic landscape. If Neufeld’s excellent compositions were not enough to lure the listener; another reason to take a dip into this album is that it provides an insight into how Neufeld’s contributions fit so perfectly into Arcade Fire. Her skills in part have enabled them to capture the sum total of all their emotions and netting a vast number of listeners. The Ridge is a sophisticated and rich listening experience.