Misfit City #1 - Daylight

To work out where Darkroom are coming from, you could do worse than take a look at 'Daylight's arresting cover. It's a study of sturdy, corroded old industrial tanks, encircled by metal stairways and surrounded by a devil's playground of battered, abandoned plastic drums. The drums are marked with hazard labels but yawn open, suggesting that their toxic contents have long since leached out into the environment. Behind the towering tanks are a radiant blue sky and a slanting blanket of pure white fluffy cloud, so that they rear up like Reims Cathedral. It's beautiful, in a warped way - the wreckage and castoffs of a once-bright new industry which nonetheless continue to assert themselves. But in this toxic paradise there's not a person in sight.

No, this isn't suggesting that Darkroom are the sort of electronica trio who revel in futurism and excise humanity from their orderly sequenced, oscillating musical vision of the world. Quite the opposite - Darkroom's music (in which Os' sequences and textures are balanced by Mike's mutated post-industrial guitars and Tim's naked, swoony vocal wail) has humanity in spades. The live instrumentation unites with the programmed sound and beats in a way that's rare in over- purified electronic music. But in the music that emerges - one in which the technology provides uncertainty rather than comfortable form, where the threat of chaos and upset looms in the background - the main note sounded is one of loss. One of the main qualities of daylight, after all, is its impermanence.

We've already heard the discontented seethe of the 'Carpetworld' single: roof-skittering drum'n'bass with guttering snarls of wounded guitar and Tim's voice reined in to a hooded whisper of acidic lyrics - the only ones on the record, and they're about bad sex, looting and dodgy discos. We've also heard the beautiful flush of the title track: a tumbling chant - mournful but blissful - against a slow wallow of bass, the singing notes of Mike's Frippertronical guitar, and Os' dawn chorus of flickering sound. Darkroom can do in-yer-face, and they can do strokin'- yer-cheek. Which they do in roughly equal amounts; and often both together, in an elusive blur of ambiguous emotion. The sort that makes you keep one eye on them and the other, anxiously, on the door. But which keeps you held in place, unable to resist the desire to see for yourself what comes next.

And ambiguity is the keyword for this music. Brash, defined techno structures are missing, their place taken by sketchy outlines which the trio fill up with evolving, chaotic detail. The beats are light-footed: slow breaks languidly pacing the background, or pattering techno pulses like rats' paws. The electronics hum like supercharged fridges close to bursting flamewards, or keen out lovely auroral shivers in the sky and in the shadowed spaces. Tim's full-voiced mixture of blurred wordshapes and subverbal whoops are sometimes Buckley-ish in their tortured flamboyance, sometimes more like Liz Fraser's outraged brother. Melodies drift, loop and contort: massy and queasily mutable, like cloudscapes tortured out of their natural forms by the force of some cruel idiot god.

Sometimes it sounds like Underworld tumbled from their throne and reeling with the impact of a massive nervous breakdown. Or like Fripp and Eno sailing their boat into much more malevolent waters. 'Sprawl' growls its overcast way past complex shifting slapping beats, squelched bass, crushed radio-talk and vocal frailties, a baleful camera scanning a wasteland. The opener, 'Crashed', is strung out, lovely but disfocussed, with a streak of elegant suffering running through. The guitars rattle like motoring moon-buggies, the voice oppresses like a summer shower, and somewhere in the background, behind the throaty tick of percussion, a lone voice of optimism: a marimba chinking out its own little Reichian wavelet.

There are episodes of naked grace on board, beside the pollution, but 'Daylight' is still one of the most subtly distressed records to wriggle out of recent electronica. This is most obvious in the wrenching, frozen agony of 'Vladimir', but 'Died Inside' seems to sob in anticipation for a collapse waiting to happen but never quite arriving. Looped calls, lilting gasps are answered across a chill echoing gulf by the icy fuzz of a guarded guitar, prowling and snarling in its own isolation: once, Tim's voice reaches a rare intelligibility - a panicked, unanswered plea of " d'you feel the same?"

The wonder that comes close in hand with this fear is laid out explicitly in 'No History'. A soft hip-hop beat holds down the sky-stretchingly rapt vocal and the beautiful subterranean guitar moans: a soundtrack to that forever- flavoured moment as you lie stricken at the bottom of that fatal crevasse watching the final, most brilliant stars of your life pierce the beckoning void overhead. Like a fleeting memory of softer times, a snippet of 'Dock Of The Bay' slips in. The amplifier buzz at the end's a benediction.

If there's a time when there's resolution, it's when those two questioning background voices reach out across the comforting pulse of 'Estragon': Mike's guitar like a high, bowed bell, Tim toned down to a florid whisper. Still, as it sails on towards its hushed conclusion, the key feeling of 'Daylight' remains one of loss. A lament for something unknown, but something voiceable. Something past reaching again as the day goes down and fades off into the poisonous beauty of a industrial sunset haunted by old, unquiet ghosts.

Dann Chinn

Original article here