If you know Sarah Neufeld, it is likely from her work in Arcade Fire, playing violin and keyboards and providing backing vocals. Her solo work, however, is different. Neufeld is, first and foremost, a violinist, and the songs on 2013’s Hero Brother and now The Ridge are richly layered, violin-centric arrangements that have as much sprawling appeal as any epic Arcade Fire song. For her sophomore album, Neufeld incorporates her ethereal voice into the arrangements more than ever before and the addition only makes her songs more compelling.

The eight tracks on The Ridge are not merely different iterations of violin and vocals. Most notably, Neufeld is accompanied by Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara. His rhythmic percussion is as varied in style as Neufeld’s mutable violin. “The Glow” is the best example of their collaboration and the most interesting song on the album. Wordless, the song begins with Neufeld plucking the resonant strings of her violin and repeating the same refrain ad infinitum. Progressively layered over this is Gara’s percussion, oddly industrial and tribal, creeping electronic atmospherics eventually take over the entire song.

A defining aspect of the album is its scope. “The Glow” clocks in at exactly seven minutes, and that’s on the short side for Neufeld. Opener “The Ridge” is an eight-minute extravaganza, highlighting Neufeld’s speed and ability to forge riveting tension from a frenzy of strings and crashing cymbals. When that cacophony dies down, Neufeld’s cooing voice reflects the calming serenity after a storm. “A Long Awaited Scar,” is the longest track and it bears the most traditionally symphonic violin on The Ridge. One third of the song is solo violin until a single drumbeat is heard, then another until Gara erupts on drums and Neufeld’s violin takes on a folk reel quality.

While The Ridge has plenty euphoric moments, the prevailing tone is dark, verging on haunted, ethereal sensation. Violins tend to have that effect more often than not. But in the context of the album, tension arises even from the lack of a distinct climax and musical resolution. “From Our Animal” foregoes Gara’s accompaniment and consists of five minutes of Neufeld practically sawing across her taut strings. It’s foreboding from the very beginning but it never goes anywhere. Closer “Where the Light Comes In” is somewhat similarly one-note, featuring a lamenting folk violin on heavy reverb overlaid with rumbling, almost oceanic atmospherics.

The ambient nature of Neufeld’s music brings to mind current artists like Juliana Barwick, but where Neufeld excels is in crafting distinctly unique songs that showcase her stylistic range more than anything else. The Ridge goes from the percussion-fueled “We’ve Got a Lot” to the solo violin on “From Our Animal” and never sounds inconsistent. And Neufeld’s violin covers everything from traditional (“A Long Awaited Scar”) to folk (“Chasing That Bright and Burning.”) Even more than Hero Brother, The Ridge is an accomplished album that proves the musical variety possible with few instruments.

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