Under Review

Sarah Neufeld

The Ridge

Paper Bag; 26/02/2016

Everything, physical, spiritual, follows its own course into existence. It’s called birth, and sometimes it comes with expectations of a specific, steadfast attitude based upon pre-defined attributes. Ask the violin and you shall know. Its hourglass shape usually made of ebony, spruce or maple, along with its varnish predispose towards classical music and nothing else.

This is what it seems to have affected, the violinist Sarah Neufeld’s debut solo album, Hero Brother, where her improvisations, narrow and fuzzy like a newborn’s vision, hesitantly explore and lightly manipulate that preassigned sound path. But life happens along the way, and eventually changes too. In her second LP The Ridge, Neufeld scales the expanded ribcage of her violin, vigorously slides on its unmarked neck and reaches the bridge from the highest arching point she fearlessly dives into the core. There, into the deepest places of her instrument, she discovers its youthful heart eager to try on different behaviours and appearances, to form new relationships with other instruments and music textures, to risk in order to find what it is and how far it can go. In Neufeld’s safe, virtuosic hands, the violin manages to express its identity development, translating its inner air currents into unbridled, probing phrasing.

The opening song, “The Ridge,” is enthralling a spellbinder. The frequencies produced by that unparallelled, fresh combination of feral martelés and robust tremolos form a feeling of wild happiness and an exciting mood for life-changing adventures fear is not an option here. Energetic, uncomplicated drums, subtle electronic drones and sparse, feathery vocals are interconnected into a minimalistic electro pop structure, serving as a foundation that gives prominence to the violin’s ingenious, fast impulses. In the words of the finicky listeners, this is a promising beginning.

“We’ve Got A Lot,” is reminiscent of Irish folk songs that recount stories of great sea travellers, the kind of stories which can plant the seeds of wisdom in youthful minds. The artist interprets this traditional reference in a modern, alternative way, blending eerie vocalisations into it, simplifying the strings by shifting much of their playfulness into the percussions and achieving a vibrant, rhythmic balance in a clean-cut context: no frills, no unnecessary ornamentations. “They All Came Down” presents Neufeld as “talkative” as ever. A minute and a half break where for the first time in her solo career, her spectral singing overlaps her violin. “Glow” is an inspiring ode to pizzicato which seems to be interrupted by sudden amplified lashes on plastic mattresses, outer space noises and glitch sounds.

Τhe charm of “Chase the Bright and Burning” on the other hand, unfolds during the song’s second half where the violin acts almost like a slow-moving, concentrated pontiaki lyra (Greek Pontic kemenche) preparing for the Dionysiac ecstasy. The album continues with a series of fast bow movements and intense staccatos, ending with the calming vibrations of “Where the Light Comes In.” Like a nuclear brain reaction that questions not only the status-quo, but also itself, generates new ways and ideas, then relaxes.

Sarah Neufeld’s solo violin, becoming gradually more comfortable in its own skin, builds a causeway across The Ridge to meet its early adulthood