Violinist Alexander Balanescu has, over the years, established a reputation both as a classical musician and as one of Britain's foremost session musicians (well, he's not actually British, he's Romanian, but he's based in the UK). If you find a rock/pop album recorded in the UK over the last six or seven years that features violin, there's a reasonable chance it's going to be Balanescu that's playing it.
This album is the first release by his string quartet on Mute and it's a prime example of Balanescu's crossover between the classical world with which string quartets are usually associated and his work in the more commercial rock/pop world. Only three of the nine tracks on this album are original compositions though - there's a cover of David Byrne's "Hanging Upside-Down" and no less than five covers of Kraftwerk tracks.
Well, what can I say? Previous Kraftwerk covers by the likes of Big Black were thought of as adventurous at the time but hearing Kraftwerk songs (about as electronic and synthesised as it's possible to get) performed on only two violins, a viola and a cello is something more than a little bit different. What's really astonishing is that these covers aren't just some sort of vague interpretation in strings, retaining the melody and throwing away all the synth twiddles and assorted bleeps and boings, they're remarkably faithful to the original and any Kraftwerk fan would recognise them instantly. Most of the aforementioned twiddles, bleeps and boings are still there, albeit in a rather...stringier form.
Given the quality of the Kraftwerk originals combined with the excellence of the execution, the innovation (if you had a string quartet, would you decide "Hey, let's do some Kraftwerk covers"?) and novelty makes it difficult to pick a favourite here. All five covers are cleverly done, but if I had to pick one, "Autobahn" would probably be it if only for the wonderful way the cello has been used to create the car engine noises of the original (yes, they've even reproduced the quiet sequence with all the different types of traffic noises). They've understandably had to cut some of the original (it was 19 minutes long) but listening to the track you become convinced that they only did this because it would have been a bit dull and not because they weren't able to mimic all the electronic sounds with their instruments. "Pocket Calculator" is worthy of special mention too, for its fidelity (all the calculator bleeps in place, it's even got a beat!) and the vocals, where Balanescu's strong accent fits rather well.