Just a few months ago, I'd never really considered that a string quartet might be able to play rock music. After hearing Break of Reality's album Spectrum of the Sky, however, that changed. So when I heard of a different string group playing rock music, I knew I had to take a listen. The Vitamin String Quartet did not disappoint me.
Per_Versions covers songs from a variety of artists, including Spoon, The New Pornographers, and Tom Waits among others, transforming their original compositions as only a group of classically-trained string players could. What you end up with is music that, in most cases, transcends that of the original artists to show that melody exists where you may not have heard it in their initial versions.
The Vitamin String Quartet (or VSQ for short) is a Los Angeles-based group of musicians that has released quite a large series of albums paying tribute to classic rock and roll acts, movie soundtracks and more. Per_Versions continues the trend, covering songs from twelve different artists as well as three original compositions.
Unlike Break of Reality, VSQ covers other bands, from the past and present. I have to admit that I was shocked to hear some of these songs played by strings, since most of them have been played on the radio in their original, sometimes over-engineered or screaming guitar states. But when you strip away the electronics, distortion, and rock guitars, you end up with melody, musical themes, and hidden rhythms that allow such elements to shine.
Of all the tracks on the album, two are my favorites. "The Way We Get By," originally by Spoon, really moves. Something about the groove really gets into my head as it bobs along with the backbeat of the bass behind the sliding bows of the higher strings. And "Sour Times," originally by Portishead, also has a different texture from the rest of the songs on this CD, combining jazz sensibilities with the feel of a Fiona Apple song.
In addition to the 12 covers, there are three original compositions from members of VSQ. Though I appreciate the musical chops of this great array of artists, these songs are a bit weird for my taste. The only thing I can compare them to is avant garde jazz compositions, which I often have the same reaction to. I'm sure they're brilliant pieces, but they strike me as repetitive and containing odd chord progressions.
Beyond the three original tracks, though, the rest of the album is fantastic. VSQ's experiments in rock and pop covers proves to me, without a doubt, that classic training can bring out the music from the most unlikeliest of sources. Where before the voices and rock guitars would mask such beautiful melodies, VSQ manages to uncover the secrets within the original works that we might otherwise never hear.
Per_Versions is but one of many albums from the Vitamin String Quartet. If you like classical or orchestral music, but prefer rock or pop, this just might be the group for you. For more of their offerings, be sure to check out Vitamin Records.
Pick up a copy of Per_Versions at your favorite online or brick-and-mortar retailer and keep an eye out for any live dates that might come your direction.