I imagine there’s an imaginary border where classical music meets pop: a narrow, raised precipice that only the most skilled of artists can balance across. Lean too much to one side, you skid towards pretension and artifice; towards the other, and you run the risk of alienating your core audience. I’ll leave you to decide which side is classical and which is pop, but will posit that Sarah Neufeld is that rarest of musical explorers that can scale the summits of these two genres as expertly as she does on The Ridge.
At the core of The Ridge’s eight compositions is Neufeld’s peerless violin work, the purest expression of her artistry, but equally impressive is the way she uses her human voice as a delicate counterpoint to her rhythmic playing. Bolstered by more traditional rock instruments (most notably drums from her Arcade Fire bandmate, Jeremy Gara), the title song and “A Long Awaited Scar” pulsate with palpable tension. At over eight and nine minutes respectively, there’s plenty of time and space for Neufeld’s expansive soundscapes to traverse a myriad of emotional peaks and troughs, but she proves just as adroit at using more traditional rock timing on “We’ve Got A Lot” to make an impact. The doleful, elegant “Where the Light Comes In” is a most satisfying coda, revealing yet another layer, this one a delicate, folk-inspired elegy that offers the perfect balance between The Ridge’s majestic and sombre tones.
Those patient enough and willing to give this largely abstract and instrumental opus the time and attention it deserves will be richly rewarded with an impressive example of what cross-genre experimentation can produce. Neufeld and The Ridge rises to meet and exceed your wildest expectations.
Paper Bag Records
February 26, 2016
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