The String Quartet Tribute to Phish
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Along with official releases like Wave of Mutilation: The Best of the Pixies and Frank Black Francis, The String Quartet Tribute to Pixies is another, somewhat more unusual spin-off of the Pixies' 2004 reunion tour. Then again, it seems like even the most obscure groups have a string quartet tribute album (or, alternately, Pickin' On... bluegrass tribute album), so it's a little surprising that it took Vitamin this long to get around to arranging the music of one of alternative rock's definitive bands for a string quartet. Actually, The String Quartet Tribute to Pixies isn't performed by a proper string quartet; instead, it's a duo dubbed the Tallywood Strings, with one guy playing violins and violas, and the other handling cello duties. The fact that two people are playing four parts may contribute to the album's occasional stiffiness, but overall, this set is better than many of Vitamin's countless other string quartet tributes. The best tracks manage to transcend mere quirkiness, though it is pretty fun to hear "Debaser"'s surging intro played by a cello instead of a bass. Overall, the album is too literal: virtually every vocal tic and instrumental fill from the Pixies' originals is translated into the string arrangements. However, the version of "Caribou" underscores the song's creepy majesty, "Velouria"'s weightless feel and bittersweet melody are translated beautifully, and "Where Is My Mind?" features some attractive counterpoint and brings out the yearning partially obscured by the noise and weirdness on the original's surface. For the most part, the album sticks to the Pixies' poppiest, best-known songs like "Here Comes Your Man" and "Gigantic," but the Tallywood Strings branch out a bit with a lovely version of the less iconic "Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons" that has a strangely rural, hopeful feel, and a loose, brooding take on "Gouge Away." Not everything works quite as well: "Monkey Gone to Heaven" falls flat since the original's mostly spoken vocals are followed too closely here, and the Tallywood Strings' original track, "Burned for Good," isn't awful, but it isn't necessary, either. Still, String Quartet Tribute to Pixies is less workmanlike than many of the other string quartet tribute albums. While it isn't as daring a take on the Pixies' body of work as the covers disc of Frank Black Francis, it does offer another way for die-hard fans to hear a new take on some old favorites.