Album Review: Sarah Neufeld – Hero Brother

By: Hilary Johnston September 20th, 2013

Sarah Neufeld, perhaps best known for her membership in Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, released Hero Brother on August 20th and the record is a breathtaking mix of worldly and otherworldly.
Neufeld plays with shifting atmospheres and listeners’ expectations, her sonic luster swelling and shrinking to the poles of her instrument’s range. The violin squeals and bellows while toying with restraint and ambiance. Neufeld counts Bela Bartok, Steve Reich and Iva Pittova as her influences, all of whom audible in this work. The circular motives and harmonic rhythms nod at the minimalist movement while Neufeld dips her bow into indie rock and contemporary electro-acoustic styles as well.  The album was recorded in Berlin with Nils Frahm, who used slightly unorthodox recording settings. In addition to the Studio P4 orchestral recording hall, an abandoned geodesic dome and an underground parking garage are among the spaces used to create songs of esoteric cacophony. 
Highlights of the record include the cogent rhythms in the folky tune “Right Thought”, the wistful mix of double stops and pizzicato in “They Live On” and “Below” from beginning to end – absolutely stunning.  Praise aside momentarily, it should be noted that Neufeld’s work is not exactly accessible. The average radio listener may find the snippets of melody a tad strident and may struggle to find beauty in the subtlety of the minimalist style. Listening to it a second time is a quick cure for the aversion. Once the appreciation for Hero Brother inevitably sets in, you will be at risk of being swept away into an escapable swirling dreamland. Enjoy.
Sarah Neufeld – Hero Brother
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