Fallout 1

Misfit City - Fallout 1

Maybe it's the dispiriting "not on Warp Records or Rephlex" syndrome. Maybe it's the frustration of bouncing off 'The Wire's defense radar, or maybe it's simply the difficulties of working in abstract electronica; but the mightily amorphous Darkroom seem to have been in retreat in recent years. Strategic retreat, that is, rather than slinking off to lick their wounded diodes. They're still active, particularly in their native Cambridge - haunting basements, galleries and art cinemas when they can, recording hours and hours of live material.

Still more or less unknown, they've been making the most of this anonymity to continue to explore their unsettling take on ambient music, unencumbered by the demands of the more familiar electronica clubs or by any micro-cultures other than their own. The 'Fallout' trilogy (of which this is the first installment) is the result. Unadulterated Darkroom live and in the raw, with the song experiments and the more disciplined aspects of their last album 'Seethrough' abandoned in order for the group to embrace more of the chaotic, massy, polytextural wanderings that they touched on in their 'Daylight' debut.

The tracks on 'Fallout One' are functionally numbered, 'One' to 'Seven'. Not one of them is graced with a name or clue of any kind - no sine-wave surfing, no snippets of French or intimations of disturbance, no jokes, not even any nods to Darkroom's old Samuel Beckett fetish. Any associations which you make are entirely your own. And Darkroom don't guide. They drift through their music with a mixture of utter authority and confusing haphazardness, stirring ideas in and spinning them out. You can't place yourself with this music - merely live with it.

'Fallout One' also emphasises an increasing musical dominance by Os, the synthesist corner of the Darkroom triangle. Fresh from his solo adventures outside Darkroom in Carbon Boy, Os brings in the glut of shortwave radio voices from that project, disrupts Darkroom's light-footed beats into free-jazz stumbles, and regularly distorts and destroys any settled landscapes that the group have settled on with his relentless mutations of dense electronics. Michael Bearpark, lurking in the background, concentrates on turning his guitar into a slowhand blur of inscrutable forbidding noise and building up aquamarine loops like a coldly psychotic take on Michael Brook.

Most displaced now is abstract singer Tim Bowness. Whenever his vocals appear, they're as shocked, drowning, incoherent whoops and keens; always half-submerged in the swirl of choking ambience and psychedelic space echo that his collaborators are cooking up. As ever, the effect is similar to the contorted vocal tapestries of Tim Buckley's 'Starsailor', but this time being gradually sucked down a black hole, protesting all the way.

Caught as live as this, Darkroom's music is more disorientating and disturbing than it's ever been before on album. Though always too lushly endowed with timbre and detail to be unrelentingly hostile, it offers little in the way of chill-out calm or methodical reassurance. Even the gentler tracks such as 'Three' or 'Four' regularly see Darkroom's more pastoral landscapes bent out of shape - a mantric Bowness chant of "say" will be overcome by data squirts and snippets of Gregorian chant; a hum of guitar will be scratched over by a violently juddering, reedy electronic screech; clicking needles will have a strange banana-boat yodel stretched across them. And throughout, Os' sculpting of the sounds induces sonic meltdown. Hiccups of sounds, whale song, a mutilated loop of geothermal Mellotron or a dignified broadcaster's voice will all be sucked up, shredded and blown out, or brought round and round like a small corpse flattened onto a moving tyre.

Darkroom offer nothing easy in their collision of the beautiful, the horror-inducing and the plain distorted. 'Fallout One' is music for dissolving cities - a coolheaded embracing of confusion.

Dann Chinn

Original article

The AMG All Music Guide - Fallout 1

The first in a planned series of three live albums, Fallout One collects a variety of tracks, known only by numbers, from five separate live dates in 1999 and 2000 in London and Cambridge. In keeping with the trio's bent towards a variety of musical approaches, Fallout One doesn't so much capture a particular side of the band live as aim at a kaleidoscopic portrait, more than once within the scope of a particular song. Certainly that's the case with the introductory track "One," at nearly 22 minutes the longest song on the album. Beginning with a distorted vocal sample from another source and then half-understandable words and syllables from Bowness floating up through layers of reverb, everything from soft bass hums and static-laden piano to drum-machine cut-ups and random computer glitches and noises. It's an impressive performance, a good instance of electronic improvisation from performers comfortable with each other, and it sets the tone for the remainder of Fallout One. Similar elements reappear in the tracks without exactly repeating themselves, though throughout there's a very low rumble in the background of the mix providing a bed for everything else to build on. Nothing on Fallout One specifically calls to mind either Seethrough or Daylight, especially since Bowness for the most part avoids direct lyrics or singing in favor of wordless or hard to understand vocals and other electronic treatments and additions. An interesting -- if not downright nutty -- example of that comes when a soft Bowness croon on "Four" turns into a Bearpark guitar part, before a high-pitched squeal comes out of nowhere and repeats for a few times! "Six" has the clearest singing of all, but even that's cryptic enough, vocals eventually giving way to a chaotic collage of chipmunk-voiced snippets and heavily flanged static, among other things.

Ned Raggett

Ampersand Etcetera

‘Fallout One’ is described as containing ‘live recordings from [5] performances’ but I am not sure if it is a ‘live’ album or a recreation from that material, by Michael Bearpark, Andrew Ostler and Tim Bowness. Either way it as dramatic and indescribable album (but we’ll try anyway). There are seven tracks which are really larger index points in the overall total scheme of the disk - the pieces segue into each other, and none are simple, but rather change shape, direction and structure throughout the named parts. There are some overall moods to each track, but it does feel like an organic whole.

Some relatively constant features: Bowness voice is present on most tracks, not doing straight vocals but singing or chanting phrases which are then looped and layered to create extended textures, at the start of ‘Seven’ for example, or the middle of ‘Two’. These vary from syllables, words and even phrases, but like the rest of the disk they become part of the changing soundspace. There are also samples throughout, usually sounding like radio captures sometimes singly and sequenced as at the opening of ‘Two’ or superimposed to make a crowd in ‘Three’. Bass is obvious in a number of places and the whole is full of atmospheric textures and sounds.

The dominant feeling is of a constantly changing kaleidoscopic event: ‘One’ for example shifts between radio samples, atmospherics and voice loops, bloopy beat bubbling up, modulating the voice to tones, shimmering dark tones and dubby beat, becomes clattery and electric guitar, looped radio, bass and key melody, beat plus the voice, beat fractures and dolphins call, sqrly sound increasing and decreasing in pitch, beat and melody, mumbling voices, a beat that loses sync, strange voice manipulated, radio voices, beats and clicks and into a long end of bleeps, clicks and voices. Admittedly this is the longest track at 21 minutes, but the others are similarly active in their shorter spaces. And it is not as fractured as it reads, as components fuse into each other melding and blending to create a fascinating sound space. They shift between atmospherics and beaty periods which could be machines or looped clicks and snaps. Some of the shorter pieces are more focused - ‘Four’ is more minimal and darker with some beats but more drones, washes, bass and Bowness saying ‘round’, ‘Six’ is probably more beaty, there is a Fripp sample used in ‘Seven’ which again uses the voice a lot. There are also some very melodic periods, like the cello in ‘Three’ or the chantlike aspect that runs from ‘Two’ into ‘Three’. I don’t know if I am making this sound as fascinating as it is - the structure changes but never loses focus or direction and is constantly absorbing.