SOTNMS on The Silent Ballet

Michael Bearpark and Andrew “Os” Ostler have been creating music together since 1992. They started using the Darkroom moniker in 1996 when they performed a live improvised soundtrack for the Nevers Film Festival in France. Lately the duo has released much of their music, both live and studio recordings, via podcast. This is definitely one of the more interesting ideas I’ve seen in the expanding trend of artists releasing music over the internet for free. To be honest, I’m surprised podcasts haven’t been embraced more widely across the instrumental scene. It seems like a relatively easy way for bands to give fans sneak peeks of new songs, quick studio updates or even audio tour diaries.

On Some of These Numbers Mean Something, Darkroom create beat-driven ambient soundscapes made up of Mike’s loop-based guitar playing and Os’ keyboards and synths. The beats are mostly of the electronic variety, but on several tracks fellow Improvizone contributor Andrew Booker lends a hand with live drums. The problem with the live drums is not with the quality of drumming, but the way they mesh with the rest of the music. The sprawling ambience Darkroom creates is much better suited to electronic beats and bits of real drums cut up and run through effects than actual drums. On “Mercury Shuffle” for example, the drums sound like they were recorded to a click track without ever hearing the actual song. At the opposite end of the spectrum is “No Candy No Can Do”. The intricate beat is spread widely across the speakers and chirps like a march of little mechanical bugs.

The six-minute title track is the highlight of the record. It opens with a simple riff on electric guitar with a great sounding delay. Subtle harmonic bits are added into the loop and seem to weave together to form a guitar tapestry. As the beat drops and the song gains momentum, one guitar riff after another steals the spotlight, each with varying tones and effects. “Chalk Is Organised Dust” lives up to its great name and features some relaxing acoustic guitar and a really nice string sample. The beat for this track is one made up of both electronics and live drums and for the most part manages to work pretty well. “Insecure Digital” is an example of the types of ambient soundscapes these two are capable of creating without a beat to guide them. Ambient improvised noodling is clearly Darkroom’s strong suit, and I would have liked to see more than just this excellent two minute track on the album.

At more than a few points during the album I felt that the songs could have used a bit more structure. It’s difficult to hold this against the two, because they mainly play in an improvisational setting and that atmosphere could have been what they were after on this release. The nine tracks on this disc are a bit hit and miss, even within themselves, but there are enough satisfying moments spread throughout to keep me on the lookout for Darkroom’s next effort.

- Brenton Dwyer

Full review here.