Never Were the Way She Was is as robust as you would expect from a collaboration between Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld, two members of the ever-fertile Montreal music community whose instrumental prowess seems as much a product of virtuosity as extreme physical endurance. Their solo work—as heard on releases such as Stetson’s New History Warfare series (2008–13) and Neufeld’s Hero Brother (2013)—has triumphantly and confidently blurred the border between the avant-garde and the accessible. This 2015 release is no different, and its mood is impressively both dark and stormy and mild and meditative all at once. It’s impossible to ignore the sheer power of breath control that Stetson possesses, especially considering that all eight pieces here were written and performed live with no overdubs and loops. The influence of dance music seeps into certain tracks, such as “The Rest of Us,” with its driving rhythms on the lower register of Stetson’s bass sax, creating space for Neufeld’s relentless bowing and wordless vocals to soar high above. The album even opens with an unplaceable drone that sounds synthetic, making the listener expect an electronic bassline to drop, but instead Neufeld’s violin fades in with its signature ostinatos. At times, the shadow of Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and the American minimalists looms large over Never Were the Way She Was, but it’s a cool and refreshing bit of shade in which to relax. Even if the mood isn’t always light and airy, this is restless, driving music that always leads you to a place of peace.