Sarah Neufeld – Hero Brother (Constellation)

Beginning with a soft rumble, like wind over a microphone, Sarah Neufeld coos and shivers her violin to life, seemingly an intrinsic part of herself, coaxed into sound. This gentle awakening changes direction into the more purposeful title track; a creaking frantic, twisting beauty of a song; encompassing taut tension and a stomping beat, its circling melodic figures stretched to near-destruction.

So begins an album that frequently returns to stillness and near-silence, some songs segue into one another on the back of a tranquil hissing breeze; on her website, Sarah describes yoga and meditation as part of her musical practice, knotting the music into herself. ‘Dirt’ has a spider-web-thin delicacy which gives way to a tune of soft bass notes and pinning curls of higher-register bowing; a beautiful stridency, plucked and frayed, worried at; its central structure indelibly stamped on its wandering progression, returned to with ease. This is typical of ‘Hero Brother’; a dense tangle of styles and influences that never feels forced or overcooked. Raucous bar-room dances, sharp shards of avant-dissonance, contemporary chamber rumble, cool minimalist repetition, groaning bluesy laments. An awesome technique is wedded to a flair for romantic, involving composition, and a fiercely committed songfulness. Filigreed baroque complexity clashes with a direct slicing way with a tune and a deep focus on the sound of the instrument: its buzz, burr, whispers, growls, and shrieks. The recording, engineering, and production are excellent (from Nils Frahm and Neufeld), every flutter, scrape, and sigh is captured in close-up.

There is an ineffable magic to music like this, her live performance at the Islington pub in London last year held the audience under a spell for its full duration.

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