As I’ve mentioned several times now, mostly when discussing Rivers of Nihil, getting to fully connect with an artist you were always almost on board with is a great feeling. It can elevate the work that makes that connection even higher than the music by itself can, adding a layer of catharsis and a feeling of coming home, of some sort of tension being resolved. This is the context for my love of Sarah Longfield‘s (The Fine Constant) latest solo release, Disparity. As with her work in a band, her solo material had always almost clicked with me. Don’t get me wrong; no one, including myself, can doubt that Longfield is and always has been an extremely proficient guitar player. But something in her approach to composition left me wanting more, restraint often exchanged in favor of technical prowess and largess. With Disparity however, Longfield has pared back a lot of that approach and, with doing that, has achieved a more fluent and moving version of her music.
In order to do so, it seems as if Longfield tapped into genres like math-rock, post-rock, and adjacent styles, perhaps influenced by the dabbling in these spheres of music which increasingly inform Plini‘s work. Regardless of where she got the idea, this match up works wonders for Longfield; instead of being overwhelming and note-heavy, Disparity is dreamy, weird, and psychedelic. The entire album gives off this vibe of an hallucination or a dream. From this, you shouldn’t expect fuzz, fantasy or the other usual attributes which accompany the word “hallucination” in metal music; rather, delay effects, ethereal vocals, and spacious compositions rule the day, creating a sojourn in a faerie like realm of Longfield’s imagination. This is mostly created by the aforementioned delayed guitars, often played like the harp, the strumming style lending a percussive quality to their tone. This goes a long way towards creating the mood of the album (like on the excellent “Departure”) and also moves Longfield away from the shredding/tapping style that has informed much of her earlier career.
Fans of the style won’t be entirely disappointed, however; the album still has plenty of impressively technical passages, like those which immediately follow “Departure” when “Cataclysm” begins. Alongside these running scales are featured heavier notes, harking back to Longfield’s origins within djent. But these sounds and ideas are contextualized here; instead of running the gamut of the entire album as the core sound, as they have in the past, they are instead departures, waypoints along our way down the rabbit hole of Disparity. When taken in these micro-doses, the technical elements make much more sense and are more cohesive. The listener is not lost in a maze of notes but rather bewildered and left flat-footed for a few moments, a good feeling in an album that obviously often seeks to unnerve and unsettle us in a faint, almost childish way.
Two more elements come together to make Disparity a fantastic album. The first, and slightly less important one, is the saxophone lines smack in its middle. Longfield shows impressive restraint in using these; they don’t careen all over the place and, when added to the otherwise upbeat tones of the tracks they’re featured on, do a lot to flesh out the album and create momentum at its middle. “Sun” sees an especially great use of the instrument, blending super well with the Covet/Plini style leads and the expressive bass which holds down the back.
The track, as well as the wonderful “Citrine” and “Miro” which follow it, becomes a core of radiating energy at the center of the album, propelling it forwards towards its end. The second, and last, element we simply have to address is Longfield’s voice. Holy shit, she can sing. Where has her voice been for the rest of her career? Disparity features vocals at multiple and varied points during its runtime; on “Sun”, they’re not only a leading instrument but also a cool backing one whereas elsewhere they are more traditional and prominent. Whatever role they play, Longfield’s timbre blends in perfectly with her style of music and adds another layer to what already feels like a personal and intimate album.
Hopefully, Disparity is a sign of even greater things to come. It feels like a truly watershed moment for Longfield; it’s not exactly a reinvention as much as it is a rediscovery, an artist going back to the engines which kept her older material running and messing around with the way the wheels, bands, and pistons interacted, finding new ways to burn. If she can dig even deeper into why Disparity is so much fun to listen to, there are only brighter and bright things on her horizon; hopefully this wasn’t a one-off for Longfield but rather merely a stepping stone further into her career as an artist. We can’t wait to see what comes next.
Sarah Longfield’s Disparity was released on November 30th via Season of Mist. You can head on over to the Bandcamp link to grab it; even if you’ve heard Longfield’s music in the past and didn’t like it, we really suggest you check this one out.