The Freight Elevator Quartet is waging an uphill battle: Musicians with an Ivy League music education, the word "quartet" at the end of their name and a propensity for mixing the lofty with the low, the group paces the corridor separating the dance floor and the recital hall, poking their collective head into one or the other throughout Becoming Transparent, the Quartet's first solo full-length (they released a collaboration with DJ Spooky in '99 called File Under Futurism). As a result, fans of drum & bass, some of the most rigidly allegiant out there, will dig the beats but be baffled by the string breaks; the stringheads and contemporary-classical nerds will flush the CD at the sound of the first breakbeat. The Freight Elevator Quartet seems lost in the genre-specific supermarket: File under "classical"? Under "electronica"?
It doesn't matter where Becoming Transparent is filed; it's a beautiful record from an adventuresome quartet of musicians who realize that electronic dance music needn't ignore intellectual concerns and complicated structures to achieve bliss or, conversely, disregard curious tonalities on the way down the linear, beat-based path. They understand the pleasures of both the body and the mind, are able to meet on neutral ground (which is, like, near the esophagus?) and scrape their violins with a menace beautifully echoed in their drum & bass workouts.
Becoming Transparent could be a soundtrack (and it actually works well as a companion piece to the recent soundtrack for Darren Aronofsky's film Requiem for a Dream, which features some beat-based music performed with the great Kronos Quartet). It shifts moods and pacing frequently, starting slow and pretty; shifting to faster, female-vocal work; moving faster still. The album roller-coasters like this throughout, successfully merging the delicate wood of the violin with elegant silicon patterns that shift and shake. You can hear it all on one pinnacle of the record, "Downtime Is Becoming Less of an Option," which, over the course of five minutes, shifts from a long string moan to a machine-gun breakbeat to a convergence of both, a convergence that simultaneously recontextualizes the whole.
Those with their feet firmly cemented in the jungle or in the concert hall will no doubt despise Becoming Transparent, because the Freight Elevator Quartet obviously has no desire to pander to the narrow-minded. But those interested in electronic music as a malleable form will be giddy with the shapes and statues the group creates.