Orchestral Strings and Synth
Sarah Neufeld is certainly not new in the field of music. Though she has (as of now) two solo releases, her musical endeavors range from – perhaps supreme among all indie groups – Arcade Fire, she’s also explored a unique pairing with Colin Stetson, saxophonist extraordinaire. What makes her distinct among musicians today is her daring personal musical expeditions that bring her and us to new avenues we have yet to see or hear. Neufeld’s sophomore and latest release entitled The Ridge is certainly a new height for the violinist.
What’s apparent even from the beginning self-nominal track, “The Ridge,” is that this album is about soundscapes more than any clear or intentional message. From its start the track sounds like a carefree walk around a city, no place to be or see, merely taking the world in one second at a time. On the one side, streetcars and railways feel as if they are zooming by while the other side is littered with people busy with the typical metropolitan bustle of the modern age. Revolving hotel doors, light changes – all silenced and replaced by Neufeld’s rambunctious and purposeful bow changes and constant pulsing rhythms.
Most songs on the album are carried by a flurry of strings, particularly bowed violin, but occasionally a plucked string or two. The background instruments are another matter. Ranging from a typical drum set to electronic beats and synths, her album is mostly made up of long, droning rhythms and melodies that are made captivating by a dynamic rhythm section. However, her most dynamic backing instrument is the rather untraditional use of her voice as an added layer to an already complicated sound. Besides a few tracks, notably, “They All Came Down,” her voice is a backing instrument.
Neufeld’s voice is saturated with reverb and it’s glorious. Most lyrics are unintelligible, which works in her favor as listeners are directed to focus on the notes and melodies she’s creating – a message left up to the listener’s interpretation.
At the helm of this release is the gushingly gorgeous violin Neufeld plays with skill and ingenuity. “The Glow,” for instance, sounds like an unreleased track from Andrew Bird. The plucked strings, though not terribly complicated, transfix the ears like every track from the Social Network soundtrack.
These are not songs to sing to or rock out to, these are songs to relax and think.
Each song sounds like a distinct narrative, the album almost feels like a short story collection rather than an album. “Where The Light Comes In” illustrates an open, idyllic field just as the sun rises out of darkened azure sky or perhaps as it goes down as the low rumble of the synth brings the album to a close. It seems all forms of the human experience can be felt on this album in one way or another.
The Ridge is like a personal pilgrimage for Neufeld that we get to experience alongside her. Who knows what her next album will bring, one could only hope it’s more of this album. It’s not often the whole gamut of the human experience is so readily channeled through one album. Here’s to more.
The Ridge will be released February 26th on Paper Bag Records.