Less than a year after the release of Never Were the Way She Was, her duet album with saxophonist Colin Stetson, violinist/composer Sarah Neufeld returns with a second solo LP, The Ridge. It features Stetson on three tracks, though he plays the Lyricon rather than sax. Unlike her nearly all instrumental debut, The Ridge incorporates vocals and a prominent rhythm section -- with Arcade Fire's Jeremy Gara on drums -- for a more pop-minded excursion. Also diverging from her debut, it was recorded almost entirely in one studio, Vermont farmhouse studio the End of the World, rather than in varied acoustical settings. That's not to say it isn't still sonically ambitious. As with her other output, Neufeld explores what sounds can be generated from the instruments in play, as demonstrated on the pitch-bending, elephantine groans of the bass on "We've Got a Lot." On the same track, her ethereal vocal patter plays off of syncopated, melodic strings and Gara's percussion, creating a quasi-organic polyphony invaded by otherworldly synths and Lyricon. Later, "The Glow" explores rhythm through a minimalism that slowly introduces surprising drum and synth tones behind plucked violin patterns before evolving (devolving?) into bass drum-accentuated ambience. Concerned at least as much with timbre as with rhythm, structure, or emotional tone -- and none of these is neglected here -- the composite is perpetually stimulating, exploiting repetition and expectation, both in time and texture. Album structure is carefully considered as well, with the drums vanishing for the final two tracks. "From Our Animal" is almost a solo violin piece (the only one on the album), and "Where the Light Comes In" offers a plaintive string denouement with a weeping melody that eases us back into normalcy -- but not without having been taken somewhere. ~ Marcy Donelson
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- Never Were the Way She Was [Digipak] (Stetson, Colin)