[Album Review] Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld- Never Were The Way She Was
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Release Date: April 28th, 2015
Label: Constellation Records

Of course it’s a natural that violinist Sarah Neufeld and saxophonist Colin Stetson would get together and collaborate given their shared experience with the Arcade Fire circus. However, it is even more appropriate in that they both have a ‘throw-out-the-rulebook’ approach to their chosen classic instruments. It may be a bit strong to call their work on ‘Never Were The Way She Was’ avant-garde, but they certainly draw upon a number of influences and genres to push the boundaries of what is known as post-rock. The duo create a compelling soundscape with intriguing musical variety as they wordlessly explore the nature of existence in this strange world.

On “The Sun Roars Into View” Stetson’s woodwinds burble below Neufeld’s more strident strings, but the two keep pace with each other in an ever-climbing scale. The urgency rises, as does the dread, to the point where the listener is a nervous wreck by the time song finishes. This may be the album’s finest track but it is still just the opening salvo.

Although there is both a thematic and stylistic cohesion, Stetson/Neufeld mine such influences as Appalachian bluegrass (“And Still They Move”), jazz (“Won’t Be A Thing To Become”), neo-classical (“Never Were The Way She Was”) and Eastern sounds (“The Rest of Us”). Another album highlight is the sprawling “With The Dark Hug of Time”, which brings together most of their influences in a startling, cinematic fashion. The claustrophobic woodwinds and the screeching strings create perhaps the album’s most horrific moments.

The pair have been playing this music live together for about a year, and their familiarity with both each other and their material is quite palpable. Tellingly, the album was recorded without overdubbing, looping, sampling, cutting or pasting.