Release Date: Feb 26, 2016
Record label: Paper Bag Inc
A flurry of anxious violin strokes opens The Ridge on its eight-minute title track, rushing headfirst into a climax of splashing cymbals and echoing vocals, conjuring visions of acid-soaked western landscapes and wide open country. It's strangely, wildly accessible pop minimalism weirdness: deep tension runs through the album's main artery, constantly pushing and pulling between hypnotic repetition and spilling, tripping and exploding all over itself. With The Ridge, Sarah Neufeld — joined here by Arcade Fire bandmate Jeremy Gara on drums — establishes herself, again, as one of Canada's most exciting and singular composers.The album's greatest strength lies in its cinematic quality.
Review Summary: Watching the countrysideIt’s exciting when an artist deeply indebted to traditional musical doctrines is able to defy them gracefully. In an interview with Speakeasy, violinist Sarah Neufeld explains both a reverence for classical training, and an urge to pathfind at her leisure. For example, she forgoes normal musical notation for a peculiar system of “maps and codes.” Whatever it is, it translates well.
Violinist Sarah Neufeld is best known as a member of Arcade Fire, but her compositional style couldn't be more distant from that band's dramatic bombast. It's minimalist and repetitive, strikingly gorgeous and textural. Neufeld knows how to use a violin the same way techno musicians use digital effects and computers; she repeats phrases and expressions, subtly layering in nuances and variations until she reaches a cohesive feeling.
Sarah Neufeld is perhaps best known for her work with Arcade Fire, but it is her solo work and the collaborative album with saxophonist Colin Stetson (last year’s amazing Never Were The Way She Was) that have most impressed. The Ridge is Neufeld’s second solo album, and although she is once again aided and abetted by Stetson on a couple of tracks, his presence is one of a supportive player rather than a direct collaborator. Also present on the album is Arcade Fire’s drummer Jeremy Gara, who lends a few of these songs a simple propulsive beat.
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.
Sarah Neufeld’s first record, Hero Brother, was released on Constellation Records in 2013 and the label made a natural fit for her. In the early Noughties Constellation championed the cause of a lot of the best in post rock, from scene leaders like Godspeed You! Black Emperor to less well known instrumental acts like the viola and drums duo Hangedup. In recent years Constellation has also been leading the way in reclaiming post rock from the paint-by-numbers Explosions in the Sky knock-off dead end that the genre found itself in.
The level of pure athleticism required to play the violin reveals the pained rock faces of the classic rock axe-slingers to be a dramatic ruse. The touch it takes to make an electric guitar sing is unbelievably light, and there’s a strap to hold it in place. Violinists (and violists and string bassists, for that matter) not only must hold a not-insignificantly heavy wooden body up for an extended period of time, they also have to maintain a steady bowing arm and pivot carefully to maintain control of the sound.
Violinist Sarah Neufeld released her solo debut three years ago, and fans of her work with Arcade Fire recognized the dramatic scope of Hero Brother. She followed that with the colossal collaborative LP Never were the way she was, an album on which she and saxophonist Colin Stetson carved out eerily beautiful landscapes. On The Ridge, her sophomore solo release, Neufeld shows impressive growth, taking her already strong compositions and incorporating new wrinkles learned on that album to crack her pieces further open.
Sarah Neufeld’s previous outing, Never Were The Way She Was, provided a fascinating conversation between the fluid majesty of her violin and the virtuosic skronk of fellow Arcade Fire collaborator Colin Stetson’s sax; an ugly-beautiful, impressionistic symbiosis that bewitched even as it unravelled. Stetson returns here for her second solo album proper, although this time he’s firmly in the background. The Ridge uses voice and violin to paint a crisp scenery that feels like the fresh stillness of early morning countryside one moment (They All Came Down), and a jagged storm the next (A Long Awaited Scar).
In 1926, American physicist John Redfield, while pretty much incorporating the Futurist intellectual waves of that time, wrote that the “music of any age depends upon the kind of musical instruments which that age possesses.” Showcasing his belief in the sacred nature of technology even more blatantly, he stated, on a final note, that “composers can go no further than the possibilities of the instruments for which they write.” This is, if taken literally, an overstatement. Of course there’s more to music than simply technique. Yet, when read under a different light, Redfield’s Futuristic manifesto gains a new meaning.
Sarah Neufeld — The Ridge (Constellation)Sarah Neufeld’s second solo album, The Ridge, is glossier and more pop than her 2013 debut Hero Brother, smoothing out the scratchy, squeaky urgency into an ethereal turbulence. The disc’s center is still the Arcade Fire side woman’s formidable violin skill, as she slashes a glittering pathway through rapid, repeating motifs, yet the sound is cleaner and more abstracted, as well as augmented. Neufeld sings in mostly wordless counterpoints on the majority of these tracks, and Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara adds a thumping, euphoric undergirding to her instrumental dexterities.The title cut sets the tone, in dizzying, sawing violin riffs and thudding percussion.
Violinist/composer Sarah Neufeld has brought her stylish sonic undertones to the music of Arcade Fire since the band’s Neon Bible days. But on her solo records, 2013’s Hero Brother and her brand new collection, The Ridge, Neufeld’s vibrant, original artistic voice is able to shine brightly, unencumbered by either the indie fame or industry scrutiny of her other pursuit. The eight expansive, intoxicating new songs on The Ridge not only highlight Neufeld’s delicate, nimble violin work and studied compositions, but also her ethereal vocals, which add another textured layer to the diaphanous material.