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Record Reviews

FourPlay String Quartet

12 Track, LP (2009, Smart Pussy Records)
Related: Fourplay.

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

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Your Comments

stately  said about 6 years ago:

Saw the recent Sydney basement show, and the band were in excellent form. Never a dull moment, intuitive almost telepathic playing, very on and relaxed at the same time. Sufjan cover was awesome, as was ''Everything was going fine...''

hellosQuare  said about 6 years ago:

i was there for one of the nights recorded and they definitely sounded on fire that night. the cocteaus cover is great, a song written for the shimmering quality of a string quartet really!

tinyman  said about 6 years ago:

I was at another gig, think they could do with more on stage banter, a few more lame jokes between songs would be good.

raven  said about 6 years ago:

Clearly you haven't seen one of our normal banter-heavy shows, tiny!
Although that said, if we're in the market for lame jokes, you're the first person we'll call on. Thx.

shaun  said about 6 years ago:

What Cocteau Twins song do youse cover?

astralwerkor  said about 6 years ago:

Jeez, shaun, read the review:

subtly beautiful takes on Cocteau Twins’ ‘Seekers Who Are Lovers’

raven  said about 6 years ago:

Late period, shaun - ''Seekers Who Are Lovers'' from Milk & Kisses. Still beautiful album, from when they, like, sold out because *gasp* the occasional lyrics from Liz were in comprehensible English :)
Here, someone's YouTube

Our cover is a surprising amount slower! How did that happen? Listen at

tinyman  said about 6 years ago:

what? there's a whole genre of cello jokes that just totally goes over my head. you music nerds.

astralwerkor  said about 6 years ago:

Cello there, how are you today?

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  • 1.   Everything Was Going Fine...
  • 2.   Butter Girl
  • 3.   Seekers Who Are Lovers
  • 4.   The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us!
  • 5.   Venice Underwater
  • 6.   A Grain of Truth
  • 7.   Rudd-a-dub Dub
  • 8.   Killing In The Name
  • 9.   Spanish Castle Magic
  • 10.   Where The Sun Don't Shine
  • 11.   Famous Blue Raincoat
  • 12.   Lover Man
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