There’s no use guessing what instrument Sarah Neufeld plays. As the violinist for Arcade Fire, Neufeld has now written two solo records, the first being Never Were the Way She Was, a collaborative album with fellow Arcade Fire member, saxophonist Colin Stetson, and now The Ridge, a collaborative album with Arcade Fire’s drummer, Jeremy Gara.
While the work is well composed and engineered incredibly well, I was surprised to find it mainly only violin playing. I had no idea what I was walking into, as I had not heard Never Were the Way She Was until after The Ridge, but I was nonetheless surprised that it was an all instrumental album. Neufeld does provide vocals here and there as background textures, but never lyrics or major melodic themes.
I’m not saying the project needed more, but it would have fit over very nicely. I understand that’s not what Neufeld was going for, but I could hear vocal lines over the violin composition that I sometimes wish were there, just to add another component and timbre to the violin heavy album, especially with tracks reaching the nine minute mark. So yeah I guess maybe I’m saying that the project needed more.
The Ridge functions primarily as a film score to which no film is attached, with the theme of “The Ridge” and song titles being the only basis for context into the compositions. Not to forget to mention though that Neufeld is a fantastic violinist and composer, and the influence her sound has on Arcade Fire is noticeable in the first minute of the record. Same goes for Jeremy Gara’s percussion additions. Neufeld’s tone is unbelievable, and her ability to captivate me solely with her violin for any part of the record is honestly impressive.
As Winston Cook-Wilson of Pitchfork put it, “it’s hard to make strings-based, indie-rock-tinged instrumental music in this vein sound fresh.” And when it really comes down to it, if I added everything that I believe would make the compositions more exciting, (more drums, vocals, a lower frequency bass tone), what I’d get is just an Arcade Fire track with Neufeld on vocals, minus the accordion and keyboards: a minimalist Arcade Fire.
What Neufeld did however, was just take it that next step. It sounds beautiful, and it might be wrong for me to want more from it as I listen, and not take it simply as it is, but I can recognize that as my own fault. Nonetheless, hearing Neufeld play was a nice change of pace. The music is light but the themes seem dark, which is what gives it that cinematic feel. If anything it proves she’d be a fantastic film score composer, but without it, it hits me like theme without context.