Misfit City - Fallout 3

The kinder, gentler Darkroom? Mmm, possibly - but it seems an unlikely label.

Nonetheless, 'Fallout 3' initially seems something of a let-up from Darkroom's unsettling dark-ambient explorations. Os, the group's synthesist and studio-flexer, now seems to be exerting most of the active control over the emerging music. On this occasion he does this through drastically remixing more of those Darkroom live tapes which have spawned the 'Fallout' series. This time it's "a celebration of the art of post-production", compressing their rich and chaotic improvised sprawl into a thickening wall of noise. Darkroom as jelly, rather than the usual coils of prismatic vapour. In the process, it displays a side of the group which may well appeal more to those ambient aficionados and art/noise acolytes who've so far proved immune to - or unconscious of - their brooding wide-open power.

This time, the art-rock richness of Tim Bowness' keening, beautiful-agony vocal (previously something of a scene-stealer, especially at its most Hammill-esque) drifts faintly through the mix like a displaced ghost. Half-obscured, half-dreamy, its physical presence fades to a livid imprint. The industrial-melodic textures of Mike Bearpark's guitars and his layered MiniDisc manipulations have sunk even deeper than before into the fabric of Darkroom sounds, as have the body of most of the drum loops. The most audible instruments to be heard for this latest hour-and-a-quarter of Darkroom are the humble studio fader and the reverb unit, teasing their way through building detail.

Turned right down, 'Fallout 3' sounds like the smooth peanut butter to the crunchy variety of 'Fallout 1' and '2'. But turned up, the music piles up inexorably like a thick fluid, shot through with veins of displaced voices. Sometimes they're Bowness, processed almost beyond recognition to become muttering crowds or alien choirboys; sometimes they're radio voices stroked out of the ether by Os' continuing casual interest in plunderphonics. The little instrumental dialogues and monologues that used to weave through Darkroom pieces have been melted down too. All goes to feed this amorphous monster.

The result is that - more than ever - Darkroom's music has the amnesiac, dissolving qualities of oceans. Powerful, ever-massing, and strangely indifferent to the repercussions of its nature. Although the sound's closer to dry land, if perhaps not stable ground. The continuously rumbling geological depth and the thick "angry-earth" quality to the sound brings this reinvented Darkroom closer to the relentless, tectonic grind of Robert Hampson's dark-ambient process music with Main. And like Main's, the pieces on 'Fallout 3' are much of a muchness: all slightly differing curves on a line mostly heading in one direction, arcing beyond post-rock to the land of out-rock. There's far less of the more identifiable "Fripp & Eno swimming in Lee Perry's galactic fishtank" tendencies of the past - the always diffuse identities of the Darkroom players are now barely there at all. The music has turned them inside out.

Consequently this is seventy-five minutes of impressive and utter liquefaction that's still identifiably Darkroom. And which also enables them to thumb an invisible nose at past accusations of formlessness. Even when their musical substance is reduced to something as intangible as this, Darkroom's baleful and beautiful intent remains intact: something far beyond the easy trance to which most electronic acts are finally reduced. Their vision is still inexplicable and alien. It's also still undeniable.

Neither kinder nor gentler, then. Just even more seductively suffocating and inscrutable.

Dann Chinn

Original article