Misfit City - Fallout 2

The second in Darkroom's trilogy of interwoven concert travelogues sees them shrunk to fit circumstances. 'Fallout 2' records those times when, due to the occasional absences of vocalist Tim Bowness, this unorthodox dark-ambient trio fell back on being a duo. The five lengthy live tracks here see Darkroom's sound entirely built up from Os' infinitely malleable, polluted ocean of electronic sounds and Michael Bearpark's heaven-and-hell masses of loop guitar.

Subtracting the singer should have meant removing the human face from Darkroom's activities, and forcing their music - with its hanging menace, dense atmospherics and chaotic leanings - further down the road to alienation. In fact, the opposite is true. Minus those fragmentary Bowness sighs, whispers and melodic wails, Darkroom relinquish some of their edge of romance and distress. But they also dispel a lot of the intimations of human disintegration, morbidity and panic that those beautifully tortured vocal tones brought to the project. In his absence, Darkroom is able to relax and experiment with a two-way balance instead of the three-way teeter they'd thrived on previously. Os and Michael sit back and play off each other - not in unison, but in a dialogue of occasional crossings and of deceptive, mock-disengaged responses.

As with 'Fallout One', the two-man Darkroom continue to embrace instinctive wandering noise-stews rather than art-rock discipline. For this album, they're gentler brews - the first beginning with a serene duet of heaven-scented loop guitar and a windblown squiggle of pink noise. Released from some of his duties as textural foil, it's Michael who now gives the music its anchors - cyclic calling phrases, sometimes humming confections of layered Frippertronic-like loops, sometimes space-echoed licks, sometimes a sound like someone wrenching their way out of a giant metal tank. Os, as usual, takes responsible for most of the layers of sonic detail and for the most drastic directional shifts within Darkroom's ever-restless improvisations.

Os' increasing plunderphonic tendencies (linking and threading pieces with snippets of international radio conversation, Cambridge choristers, muezzin calls) prove that behind his responsibilities for the body of Darkroom's sound, he's also the joker in the Darkroom pack. He dials up effects and textures from a vast trickbag of electronic sounds which he then sloshes across the speakers and leaves to evolve. His rhythms, too, betray a sense of cool, amused mischief. He'll stitch in trails of techno beats, or hijack a piece five-and-a-half minutes in with jazzy cymbals and toms drenched in flapping dub treatments. He'll even drop in the occasional comedy drum wallop to accompany some blooping synth sounds apparently stolen off a kiddy-ride in a shopping center. Inscrutable humour aside, he also assembles a remarkable variety of imposing psychedelic cadences, static veils and suggestive electrophonic shapes to flesh out Darkroom's randomness.

Though Michael Bearpark's playing still owes a debt to Robert Fripp (via the "Bearatronics" loops and occasional digressions into trumpet-guitar), he's far less formally-minded. And while you could also draw parallels to the mangled roots sounds David Torn uses in his sPLaTTeRCeLL project, Michael is a far more reticent, distant and watchful guitarist: less flamboyant, but similarly eclectic. Across the album he comes up with the kind of junkyard guitar that Marc Ribot would be proud of, or treats us to yanks and scrabbles of twanging guitar in the vein of Henry Kaiser or Fred Frith. He unwinds collapsing, Spanish-guitar-style electric rolls; or feeds in the Bill Frisell-influenced ghost-country minimalism that he's increasingly stamped onto Darkroom music. Os responds with gusty, gauzy swirls of noise, or busies himself chopping up the sound even as Michael enriches it.

It's co-operation of a kind, I suppose. Sometimes the Bearpark/Os interplay is gloriously subtle; more often, they're engaged in a game of reverse-chicken in which they seem to be seeing just how far they can wander from each other's playing before Darkroom collapses, adding a kind of free-jazz risk to the elements of illbience, Krautrock and musique concrete that already flourish in the group's sound. Darkroom's abstract shapelessness - or, more accurately, their indifference to and boredom with the monotonous formality of much electronic music - seems to put a lot of people off, but their loosely-knit and liberated music still has few rivals or peers in electronica.

Dann Chinn

Original article