Album Review: Never Were the Way She Was by Colin Stetson
Great, Based on 16 Critics
PopMatters - 80 Based on rating 8/10
It’s hard to listen to an album by a romantic pairing of musicians without imagining how their relationship bled into the music. After all, a collaboration of any kind means compromise—a middle ground somewhere between where I am and where you are. Yet such compromises do not always fall directly on the path that connects us but rather somewhere in the expansive wood between my home and yours.
A relatively new instrument in the classical idiom, there are few works designated specifically for the saxophone. Instead, it is often confined to jazz and pop, rarely making any sort of orchestral appearance. But because of its comparative newness, the tonal possibilities for the saxophone within a classical context have yet to be fully exhausted, let alone explored.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Billed as an album of "original compositions for horn and violin", the debut collaborative album from these two Montreal based musicians comes across as an impressive and experimental work, as they twist and manipulate their instruments to create something futuristic, not traditional. Their two talents are juxtaposed - sometimes they gel beautifully, and sometimes the tension between them adds drama and dynamics, bringing their instrumental music into sharp focus.
Much to the blessing of low-frequency drone and sad clamorous metronome lovers everywhere, Colin Stetson continues to thrive. The unfailingly singular approach to the sound that he has carved out never feels like mere indie novelty, even with Justin Vernon crooning over it. The man’s music is sorrowful and soundtrack-friendly, but there is always an element of imperfection, of adjustment and sweat and lag and lope.
The primary meeting place for saxophonist and bass clarinetist Colin Stetson and violinist Sarah Neufeld is Arcade Fire. She is a permanent member; he often plays with the band on tour. That said, both record for Constellation as solo artists. Never Were the Way She Was was written and recorded live in the studio with no overdubs or loops.
After a triad of acclaimed albums that enacted a 'New History [of] Warfare' in a range of styles fusing classical minimalism, improvisational jazz, metal, and post-rock, and with some high profile guests for the sung and spoken word sections (including Laurie Anderson and Justin Vernon) where could Colin Stetson go but to the rebirth of the planet, after that sonic apocalypse? Never Were the Way She Was doesn’t explicitly announce itself as a sequel to Stetson’s trilogy, and it’s very much a collaboration ('and' rather than 'with' Sarah Neufeld) but it’s certainly intended as an exploration of a different set of emotions. Briefly, and for those unfamiliar with their work, Stetson and Neufeld are two Arcade Fire affiliates (on baritone saxophone and violin, respectively), rapidly making a case for Arcade Fire being Stetson and Neufeld affiliates. More than anything since Bitches Brew and On the Corner, Stetson’s New History Warfare series convinced fans of post-rock, metal, and electronica that 'avant-jazz' isn’t a swearword, while sending them back to Simon Reynolds’ original manifesto for post-rock for a reminder that this is what the genre (still largely mistaken for crescendo rock) could have been.
Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld met back in 2006, but it took them close to a decade to find the time to record an album together. They were busy performing together in Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, scoring the film Blue Caprice, supporting each other at various shows, and releasing critically lauded solo albums; namely, Stetson's New History Warfare record trilogy and Neufeld's Hero Brother from 2013. Thankfully, amidst that madness, they managed to put aside a week here and a week there to combine their collective skills and extended techniques into a singular effort that is ultimately greater than their individual efforts.
There’s something inscrutable and implacable about the music of the Montreal-based saxophonist Colin Stetson. His journey from the edges of the avant-garde to touring with Bon Iver and Arcade Fire has an inexorable feel to it, as if Stetson pushed his way to prominence wielding nothing but the mighty sound wrung from his chosen instrument. Sarah Neufeld, a violinist who has been a permanent member of Arcade Fire since their second album, is a kindred spirit: She brings a highly unconventional ear to her instrument and also seems to wander between genres without much fuss.
Violinist Sarah Neufeld and multireedist Colin Stetson have both found a niche in which they can use their orchestral instruments in rock, modern classical composition, and everything in between. Though both may be best known for their work with rock acts (particularly Arcade Fire, with Neufeld as a permanent member and Stetson as a touring member), their more experimental solo material stands just as tall. Together, on their full-length collaboration Never were the way she was, their emotive instruments — violin, tenor and bass saxophones, and contrabass clarinet — trade places as figure and ground in a startling yet familiar landscape.
Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld are probably most well known as members of Arcade Fire, where Stetson provides his unique take on saxophone and Neufeld fulfils violin duties. Away from the Canadian behemoths, the pair are renowned soloists delicately manoeuvring along the boundaries of the avant garde, each attempting to bring something new and innovative to their instrument of choice. As individuals, their solo work is held in the highest esteem.
Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld have given no formal interviews about their brawny new collaborative album, Never were the way she was, which is mostly comprised of a continual throb from his saxophones’ (both bass and tenor) howls and honks, as well as hoary scratches and wails from her violin. But they gave readers and listeners a glimpse into their creative process while talking about the last record the Montreal-based duo — best-known as members of the Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, and Stetson tours with Bon Iver — made together, the unsettling soundtrack for the 2013 film Blue Caprice, about the D.C. sniper shootings in 2002.
The most tortured-sounding of the brass instruments, the saxophone has always been an ideal device for conveying volatility, capable of a full battery of tormented shrieks, manically blissful yelps, forlorn honks, and unsettling drones. Inventively dedicated to pushing the sax's boundaries, Colin Stetson follows in the sizable footsteps of Bird, Coltrane, Rollins, and Coleman, utilizing the instrument's dark heft to mine the possibilities of low-end-focused experimentation while cultivating his own robust, earthy tone. That tone continues to develop on Never Were the Way She Was, a collaboration with Arcade Fire bandmate Sarah Neufeld, on which Stetson's bassy rumble is counterpoised by Neufeld's violin, itself ranging between delicate ethereality and frantic, scratchy intensity.
Colin Stetson And Sarah Neufeld — Never Were the Way She Was (Constellation)Colin Stetson is stuck between two camps. Both think they know what he is doing, but neither gets it quite right. He has fans, many of which first encountered him as a member of Arcade Fire or Bon Iver. They think that the blown-out, elongated sounds that he draws out of his bass saxophone are unparalleled and amazing.
If you remember back when each new Queen album was emblazoned with the slogan “No Synthesizers!” — no rockist gloat, just a proclamation that the clever special effects were trickier than they sounded — then you might feel a frisson of recognition to learn that Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld used no overdubbing or looping on “Never were the way she was. ” But while this is their duo debut duo recording, saxophonist Stetson and violinist Neufeld have intersected previously as satellite members of Arcade Fire, and shared a stage as solo artists touring in tandem. Small wonder that they realized Stetson’s circular-breathed hymnody suited the cathedralesque expanse Neufeld’s amplied strings constructed.
Saxophonist Colin Stetson and violinist Sarah Neufeld's collaborative album begins with an almost cautious frenzy akin to what it must feel like to be born: being moved carefully while bombarded by external stimuli, bathed in wonder. The album's narrative, as the write-up says, follows "the life of a girl who ages slow as mountains." The compositions masterfully convey the heaviness of a slow-moving life in which the girl experiences all that mortality has to offer on a drawn-out scale. The claustrophobia of With The Dark Hug Of Time stalls the album for a while, but the tumultuous The Rest Of Us and the astounding sorrow of the title track wash it away.
You know about the big releases each week, but what about those smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar. Don’t miss out on the smaller, lesser-known gems which might become some of your favourites. We’ve rounded up six of the best new album releases from this week: catch up ….