It’s a lovely thing when two solo artists mesh – in this instance, saxophonist / clarinetist Colin Stetson and violinist Sarah Neufeld. Each artist is coming off an artistic triumph (Stetson’s New History Warfare series and Neufeld’s solo debut Hero Brother), and each has developed a solid reputation. By joining forces, they demonstrate that their primary goal is no longer the establishment of their careers, but the investigation of new timbres.
The surprise is that these duets sound so instinctive, as if the artists had grown up together. Never were the way she was was recorded live and loopless, but it creates the illusion of layers. Neufeld’s occasional wordless vocals only add to the illusion, as measured as the instruments are wild. On “Won’t be a thing to become”, they grow into a near-chorus as the strings swoon and the bass clarinet does an incredible imitation of a standup bass. On “With the dark hug of time”, Stetson’s short breaths and exhalations transform into tones that one might mistake for those of an analogue synth. As Neufeld plays ever faster, the horns race to her side, happy to cross the finish line together. But then Neufeld slows, and Stetson keeps going: an unexpected, glowing contrast. In the final 35 seconds, the performers’ speeds match once more. While one may think of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the background is instead the story of “a girl who ages slow as mountains,” and is out of synch with the world.
“The sun roars into view” may be the lead track, and “The rest of us” the billed centerpiece, but the heart of the album lies in one of its shortest songs, the 3-minute “And still they move.” On this elegant piece, “they” do indeed move, albeit very slowly, a pure reflection of the album’s theme. As deep sighing vocals drift like fog across a barren landscape, one can sense the sadness of an untethered soul. “With the dark hug of time” picks up the thread and slogs across the field, growing more determined with each passing minute. When the track transforms into a slow march (with a beat), one recalls Neufeld’s percussive tapping on Hero Brother; she can indeed do two things at once. Stetson’s sounds here are animalistic, filled with huffing and puffing. In the final minutes, the beat stops, and Neufeld sings to herself as if she has lost her way. The title track is incredibly sad, as if the protagonist is coming to terms with her fate: to live forever outside of time and yet within it, like a discarded watch that no one has remembered to wind. There’s no telling whether either artist actually feels this way; but in this world, at least they have each other. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 28 April