Essential tracks: Sarah Neufeld-Colin Stetson: mysterious, moody collaboration

Randall Roberts
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
An original creation by Arcade Fire touring members or vintage bass and space are the latest essential tracks

Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson, "Never were the way she was" (Constellation). A few years ago the violinist Neufeld and the bass and tenor saxophone player Stetson performed a small gig at Dilettante, an art space in industrial downtown. The two, best known as touring members of Arcade Fire, offered back-to-back instrumental sets that fused jazz, contemporary classical and avant rock into an unclassifiable evening. It was spellbinding music. On their first collaborative album, "Never were the way she was," the pair work through eight moody tracks that suggest the score to a lost psychodrama.

On "In the vespers," Neufeld stutters through a violin line that recalls the repetitive structures of 1970s-period Philip Glass while Stetson blows circular patterns with his horn, rhythmically clicking his key buttons while blowing with increasing intensity. As the piece evolves, the horn player offers expressions filled with breathiness one moment but exploding with tight bursts the next.

All the while Neufeld traces, responds, offers counterpoint. "With the dark hug of time" is a whole other beast. While the violinist scrapes at her instrument until it moans, Stetson stomps out jumbo bass sax tones like he's a dinosaur. At times menacing, at others languid and introspective, none of eight works on "Never were" sound much like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Bell Orchestre, Recloose or any other acts with whom the players have collaborated. It's far less tethered to structure and way more mysterious.

Adrian Sherwood, "Sherwood at the Controls, Vol. 1: 1979-1984 (On U Sound). This British producer is best known for founding On U Sound, the influential label that starting in the early '80s has explored the convergence of Jamaican reggae and dub, African meditations, English post-punk and early synth tones. As a producer, Sherwood's output is unimpeachable, and the evidence permeates this new collection of early productions.

For example, with the guidance of post-punk group the Slits, he delivered heavy bass to go with their oblong tones, co-producing their version of singer John Holt's late-'60s reggae song "Man Next Door." For the acerbic guitar band the Fall, he helped engineer one of their vital early period deconstructions, the "Slates" EP.

Annie Anxiety's "Third Gear Kills" is a beat-based echo fest. Recorded after Annie (born Annie Bandfez) fell in with the English anarchist punk band Crass and then with Sherwood, the track is as strange as it is deep. Experimental beat duo Shriekback's "Mistah Linn He Dead" sounds like a freshly minted hip-hop beat. At the center of all 14 songs are bass and space. Whether with Medium Medium, Vivien Goldman, Maximum Joy or others, Sherwood swims in echo and effects, reveling in the power of reverb, feedback and electronics.

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