Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre Violinist Sarah Neufeld Evokes Emotions with Virtuosic Skill on 'Detritus'

BY Chris BrysonPublished May 13, 2021

The word "detritus" evokes disintegration, debris and things wearing away. Sarah Neufeld's Detritus works through its own process of renewal, one that's as much a meditation as it is a summoning.

Neufeld trained as a dancer in her youth, and like that vibrant, kinetic, physically demanding art form, she uses her violin and cinematic soundscapes to span and express a range of emotions through reflective tones and sharp abstract shapes. The finesse in her skill is remarkably precise and moving, often weaving fine details into split seconds, and knowing when to hold back and let space and texture weigh in.

Detritus — the third solo album from the member of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre — originated from a 2015 collaboration between Neufeld and dancer/choreographer Peggy Baker. The collaboration lit a spark between the pair, and they decided to do it again with a full-length show called who we are in the dark, where Neufeld and her Arcade Fire bandmate Jeremy Gara performed violin and drums alongside Baker's small troupe of choreographed dancers. The result of their second outing led to Neufeld reimagining the show's music for an album. Taking the work into the studio, she was joined again by Gara, who performs drums and synth, with Bell Orchestre's Pietro Amato on French horn and Stuart Bogie on flute and saxophone, who — along with Neufeld's foot pedal bass synth — amass vast, resonant worlds around her keen violin.

Neufeld's virtuoso musicianship is able to evoke a rich range of emotions, from mournful spells to fervent flutters and everything in between. Throughout the album, her wordless vocals help elevate songs like "The Top" and "With Love and Blindness," adding an ethereal element to the latter's hypnotic conjuring and the former's moody flittering through anxious and alleviating motifs. In "Tumble Down the Undecided," the album's longest track at nearly ten minutes, drones swell as Gara's drumming provides a thunderous heft. Neufeld's violin jumps, skips and seesaws frantically, casting vibrant waves and bursts. The song's chase-scene momentum winds in and out of intense passages before climaxing in a raging, freeing lustre. Her instrument draws weeping lines through the record's opener, "Stories," an otherworldly dreamscape with whirring and undulating tones around Neufeld's soothing vocals. "Shed Your Dear Heart" builds on a sharply swaying violin pattern with a rhythmic heartbeat, nebulous accents and puffing woodwinds, and the album closes with the title track, a pensive wash of gleaming strings and drones.

While staying within the realms of the musical ground covered on her past solo efforts, Detritus presents a heady progression of Neufeld's work, and finds her exquisitely spirited and expressive minimalism fitting nicely into new creative spaces.
(Paper Bag)

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