Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld met back in 2006, but it took them close to a decade to find the time to record an album together. They were busy performing together in Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, scoring the film Blue Caprice, supporting each other at various shows, and releasing critically lauded solo albums; namely, Stetson's New History Warfare record trilogy and Neufeld's Hero Brother from 2013. Thankfully, amidst that madness, they managed to put aside a week here and a week there to combine their collective skills and extended techniques into a singular effort that is ultimately greater than their individual efforts.
Recorded live with no overdubs or loops, Never were the way she was is a perfect blend of Neufeld's violin virtuosity and Stetson's outside-the-box approach to saxophone and clarinet, their styles complementing yet pushing each other to new heights. The album's theme follows the story of a woman who ages as slowly as the mountains, with its compositions following a trajectory from her playful youth to a kind of self-imposed exile from humanity. Yet, it's entirely instrumental, so the story is really up to the listener to imagine, and this album truly ignites the imagination.
From the lightness of "The sun roars into view," as the tenor sax and violin timbres oscillate alongside each other, to the grimy dirge of "With the dark hug of time," as the violin simmers pensively and contrabass clarinet chugs along in a grim march while a tortured howl emotes through the texture, Never were the way she was feels like it was destined to be. ()