Sarah Neufeld’s violin plays an essential role in Arcade Fire’s catalog, whether its the seething exploration behind the acoustic guitar intro of “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)” or smooth sweeps accenting the melody of “Rebellion (Lies)”. Her debut solo effort, Hero Brother, vamps up the heat of her strums and manifests a dynamic world of haunted melodies and pristine neck work.
Without the vast dynamics of a full band surrounding her, Neufeld’s biggest challenge for Hero Brother is making 45 minutes of violin music interesting. After the first listen, it’s easy to pick out a few moments of raw talent, but after a few more, an entirely new experience reveals itself.
The impressive studio work makes the record more than a solo recital. Neufeld uses her swooning falsetto, piano trills, and other string accompaniments to heighten the intensity behind the multiple layers of violin. The violinist also dresses her songs through a variety of scenes, whether it’s the crashing waves in “Breathing Black Ground”, the crackling campfire and subtle string plucking of “They Live On”, or the intimate ruminations of a church piano in “Forcelessness”. Recording with the natural ambiences of abandoned parking garages, orchestral halls, and geodesic domes brought these scenes to life, thanks to producer Nils Frahm.
The versatility in Neufeld’s violin strings makes Hero Brother irresistible. Neufeld reinterprets her musical psyche in every track, whether it’s through passionate double-stops or continuously peaking low and high frequencies. “Wrong Thought” and “Right Thought” capture this distinction with pristine clarity, two completely different experiences exploring equal amounts of panic and composure. While “Wrong Thought” commences with shrill, rapid movements, “Right Thought” soothes the ears with angelic sweeps before developing its anxiety and suspense.
Hero Brother takes a few listens to fully understand, but the effort is rewarding and captivating. Neufeld’s talents are obvious in every track,and her songwriting abilities prove that a violin can be as addictive as the boldest tenor or shredded guitar solo.
Essential Tracks: ”They Live On”, “Right Thought”, and “Breathing Black Ground”