FourPlay String Quartet
12 Track, LP (2009, Smart Pussy Records)
OK, let’s get this out of the way first. Yes, Fourthcoming includes a version of ‘Killing in the Name’ – the agro-anthem that introduced the world to Rage Against the Machine (and inadvertently ushered in nu-metal) – however, it’s not exactly a standard as far as string quartets are concerned. Then again, FourPlay aren’t your average string quartet, having previously offered interpretations of tracks by everyone from Metallica and The Beastie Boys to Jeff Buckley and Radiohead. So, how does that unforgettable riff translate to string instruments? Surprisingly well, in fact. While on paper it’s an exercise that can easily come across as too quirky for its own good (does anyone remember Apocalyptica? Didn’t think so), such is the innate talent FourPlay have for recontextualising others’ material into their own idiom without stripping it of its original flavour. As a result, they deftly avoid (yet again) the tag of novelty act. Heavy, swooning and discordant, ‘Killing in the Name’ is but one highlight on an album that’s chock full of them.
The other covers here tread an unsurprisingly eclectic path: subtly beautiful takes on Cocteau Twins’ ‘Seekers Who Are Lovers’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ (even if Tim Hollo’s vocals don’t quite match Leonard’s – but that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it?); Sufjan Stevens’ ‘The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!’, which is made not only listenable but (shock!) enjoyable; and an appropriately loose and jammy version of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Spanish Castle Magic’.
However, these are not sucked-dry, tuxedoed “easy listening” reworkings of popular songs. As ever, FourPlay take to their source material with all the gusto of a bunch of scuzzy, angrier-than-thou punks, sounding invigorated and inspired at every turn. Plugging into an impressive array of pedals and other assorted gadgets, they eke an impressively wide array of sounds from their instruments, all without studio chicanery like overdubs and whatnot (Fourthcoming was recorded live in front of an audience of humans over three nights at Canberra’s Street Theatre).
Nestled among these interpretations is a selection of new FourPlay originals, all of which evidence the group’s increasing confidence and ability as songwriters. From the dark, stormy ‘Everything Was Going Fine…’ to the playful ‘A Grain of Truth’ and the more experimental ‘Where the Sun Don’t Shine’, there’s as much of a range to FourPlay’s own compositions as there is to their choice of covers. Since their inception, FourPlay have proven to be the place where high- and low-brow arts collide, and Fourthcoming is the most spectacular result of such a collision yet.
by Adam D Mills