Home Music Sarah Neufeld: Detritus

Sarah Neufeld: Detritus

Detritus, Sarah Neufeld’s third solo album, is the sound of nature in all its serenity and vibrancy, but also loss. The title refers to decomposed organic matter, broken down by time only to lay the groundwork for new life. It’s a natural process of decomposition and rebirth that happens over years. As such, Neufeld newest release is a more patient record, mostly content to let you sit with and absorb the sounds she creates. It’s a gorgeous experience that rewards your full attention and repeated listens.

This composure is heard all over the opener, “Stories,” a song that Neufeld describes as about “the stories we’ve told ourselves that we can no longer believe,” a fitting statement given its haunting core. As she plays out mournful notes that hang like feathers caught on a gentle breeze, a light background synth creates the sound of wind blowing through an empty cave. There’s a deep sense of yearning expressed in this chasm and the somber tones of her strings. But there’s something hopeful in Neufeld’s wordless vocals, as the strings fade into ambience. It’s a beautiful, ghostly piece. The title track is a sweet and serene murmur of strings. Its earthy tones will make you want to seek out the nearest patch of green and lie down in the grass.

Equally poignant is “With Love and Blindness,” a piece born from Neufeld’s experience of staying in a treehouse on the side of a mountain overlooking the coastline. The instrumentation is as dramatic and impactful as that imagery suggests. Her strings dance and glide with a series of small touches, rather than big curves, like witnessing all aspects of a forest ecosystem. The weighty, at times galloping, percussion by her Arcade Fire bandmate Jeremy Gara recreates the sound of waves crashing on the shore. It’s the type of music that encourages you to conjure all sorts of settings in your mind’s eye.

While Neufeld mostly opts for a gentler approach than her previous solo outing, The Ridge, “Tumble Down the Undecided” is a thrilling exception. With a wide-angled, cinematic scope, her violin swirls wildly with gale-like force. The occasional patter of drums lends to the forward momentum, like it’s trying to outrun the sunset in a desert. The track eventually erupts and ascends into a euphoric conclusion of disintegrating strings. “Shed Your Dear Heart” is similar, building to a strong mix of violin, drums and flute that weave together into a pleasant musical soundscape. But it does go on for a bit, without the peaks of the previous track to sustain it. “Unreflected” has the same flaw. While Neufeld gives her violin room to echo out into space, adding pauses to let the whispery notes sit and linger, the song doesn’t evolve much from its opening minutes.

“The Top” makes its unique presence known on Detritus for being the only song where Neufeld stands alone, just her and her violin spinning out magical melodies. Repeated musical phrases stack on top of each other, but all flow together seamlessly. It’s like putting together different liquids in a test tube and blending them together until they appear to be one and the same. And as Neufeld heaps melody upon melody, she also moves forward with fresh phrases, the song ending at an electrifying peak that feels both familiar and miles from where it started.

While Detritus was completed in February 2020, it’s mixture of melancholy and restoration feels apt for this moment, as parts of the world start to emerge from lockdown, but with the lingering sadness of the last devastating year. It’s an album made for reflection and solace, where you can let the melodies wash over you, fill you up and help you find your own sense of renewal.

An album made for reflection and solace, where you can let the melodies wash over you, fill you up and help you find your own sense of renewal.
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Melancholy and Renewal
  • Sarah Neufeld: The Ridge

    The prevailing tone is dark, verging on haunted, ethereal sensation. …

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