If a string quartet went to a rave and a rock concert.
Although Attacca Quartet has been making music since 2003, ‘Real Life’ is my first contact with the string ensemble in its own right. ‘Real Life’ is their first album for Sony Classical and Attacca Quartet said they wanted to create a dream album they’d never been able to do before. The result is ten tracks, recreating other artists music into a frenzied and crazy string rave up.
The biggest thing I need to stress here is that the string arrangements are bombastic and massive. Opening track ‘Electric Pow Wow Drum’ says all you need to know. Gutteral, buoyant, aggressive, hard-nosed and loud – and that’s just the main theme. As soon as Attacca Quartet reshape the theme by The Halluci Nation you’ll feel like you are at a Queen stadium concert. Dance and synths play a huge role too, backing up the virtuoso rockier string arrangements with a sturdy musical spine. ‘Real Life’ exemplifies that as it moves through dance, electronica, alt-rock and then cinematic cues in under three minutes. By the time you reach ‘Why?’ the quartet have turned their stringed instruments into acoustic module synths that arpeggiate out like harps. Being able to distinguish what is acoustic and what has been twisted into a synth is difficult to untangle.
Part of what makes this album so vibrant is its gusto and density. ‘Clock Catcher’ and ‘Pilgrim Side Eye’, both originally from Flying Lotus, are like crazed folk marches at times. TOKiMONSTA joins in for ‘Remind U’ giving a hybrid of club beats and hand percussion to make the track feel like an acoustic club piece. The only music I’ve heard close to this is the band Miracles of Modern Science and they largely stay in the string-rock arena. Attacca Quartet are happy to sprawl everywhere and do so with such grandeur, it takes your breath away.
That merger of what is acoustic and what is electronic blurs further into the experimental as the album progresses. Squarepusher joins in for track ‘Xataka 1’. Here the music is as chaotic as the experimental parts of the Requiem For A Dream soundtrack. It is so visceral that if you aren’t prepared for the strings manic pace and the bit-crushed beats, you’ll be overwhelmed. In the complete opposite direction, ‘Holding Breadth’ sees Daedalus twist Attacca Quartet into beams of synth light. The thin and alien beams of sound shimmer and squeal like a kaleidoscope of sound and wonder. It sounds exactly how I’d imagine a space quartet to sound like. ‘Drifting Circles’ is the moment of relative solace in the album as their take on Anne Muller’s track keeps the deep space quiet sentiment. If feels romantic and full of longing. The album closes with the short but achingly beautiful ‘More Love Less Hate’ – a riff that fades in and out with warmth.
‘Real Life’ is a rollercoaster. I’ve never heard a string quartet album quite like it and that is a huge boon. Engrossing, visceral, energetic and intoxicating – I’ve had this album on repeat since its release and find new things about it each listen. Easily my favourite ‘classical’ release of 2021 by far, this wowed me in a way only top tier music does. Stunning.
Recommended track: Electric Pow Wow Drum
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