Consequently the album is deeply impressionistic in its textures and pacing, taking time to unwind and unfold. Whilst there’s a certain amount of abstract, glitchy corrosiveness scored across the album, Darkroom supply music that whilst being relatively static, is nevertheless richly warm and melodic.
The title track has an endearing brittle poppiness that recalls the amiable sunniness of some vintage kraut rock excursions, and the stately Mercury Shuffle recreates the slow blissful waves of guitar that could almost be outtakes from John Martyn’s sepulchral epic, Small Hours.
Bearpark will be known to some listeners as member of the live No-Man group and as such you’d expect from that kind of standard there’s a wonderful poise and attention to detail. Dreamy, aquatic-sounding Fender Rhodes, pulsating vaguely dub-like atmospherics, and sublimely stirring strings conjure up what might happen if Paul Schutze made an album with Michael Brook.
This is a varied and approachable set that caters for moments of introspective contemplation (lots of glissando-type guitar forlornly fading off into space) and more expressive moods and moments. It’s worth mentioning the drumming of Andrew Booker (also in the live No-Man band) whose whip-cracking snare work and fizzing cymbals on the groovesome Two Is Ambient (and elsewhere) brings both definition and a welcome velocity to the overall shape of things.
Original article here.
The pace is slow, then, but there’s plenty to admire along the way. ‘My Sunsets Are All One-Sided’ develops cleverly, gentle beginnings gradually being overcome by tides of bit-crushed percussion; ‘Chalk Is Organised Dust’ blends hypnotic acoustic phrases with free-jazz drumming and string-like electric guitar pads. There’s enough dissonance and darkness to balance out the sweetness on display, and even the longest tracks never appear directionless.
Original article here.
Anyway, Bearpark plays guitar with a lot of effects, and Os does electronics. That is pretty much it, making Darkroom similar to any number of bands going these days (i.e., Worriedaboutsatan, Voyager 1, Sealions, etc.). That is, effects and electronics seems to be the current trend in mellow, ambientish bands.
Except that Darkroom are not following the trend. You see, Some of These Numbers Mean Something is their eighth album in ten years. Not only are they among the forebears of this style, they are actually rather productive as well.
And it seems odd to me that i have never heard of them before. I mean, this music is right up my alley, and yet this is my introduction to the band. Huh. That just goes to show that there is lots of interesting things out there. More than you can ever know, i guess.
Darkroom start off Some of These Numbers Mean Something with the simmering The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Electronics burble and the guitar whines under an eBow, building slowly. The title track is next, which chiming guitars and more intensive rhythms than the previous tune. My Sunsets Are All One Sided breaks things up a bit. It starts with a long minimalist interlude, chiming sparse guitar and a faint synth echo, but grows slowly into a dense, throbbing tune.
I could go on and describe the remaining 5 tunes, but i think you get the point. This is instrumental music with a hint of the ambient to it, and some occasional echo-y dub moments. Darkroom give us about 47 minutes worth on this disc, and if you like this kind of stuff then i think you will enjoy Some of These Numbers Mean Something.
That said, i don't think that Darkroom are really doing anything all that unique here. That is – there is nothing going on here that i don't have on several other CDs. Darkroom are not (with this release at least) breaking new ground, but it is an engaging listen nonetheless. They have a firm grasp of dynamics, and their music flows with the collaborative ease that a pair that has lasted for 10 years naturally comes to. And there are some brilliant moments strewn about – the heavily echoed end to Chalk Is Organized Dust really sticks in my mind.
So my recommendation is – if you like spacey rock, give Darkroom a listen.
Full review here.
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- Barrie Sillars
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Being a modern outfit, they could naturally be classified alongside others like Boards Of Canada, Chroma Key and Tortoise, but they also have a deep influence from older artists such as Fripp & Eno, Ash Ra, Cluster and the like. An association with Tim Bowness of No-man and being on the Burning Shed label ought to get them the attention of the Porcupine Tree crowd. But regardless of all that, they should be noticed because they are damn good.
After doing a little research and checking out some samples, the music on some of these numbers mean something is a tad bit heavier than the other material they have out primarily due to the participation of guest drummer Andrew Booker. Andrew has also played in No-man as well as the Harmony In Diversity project that featured Peter Banks. He also hosts a live music series called Improvizone that the members of Darkroom play a large part in.
Michael Bearpark’s guitar work on this album is very impressive. The info for this album on their web site describes it as “guitar under a microscope” and I would have to agree with that even though it might not make perfect sense. There are some subtle and very beautiful guitar parts on this album that remind me of folks like Michael Brook, Robert Fripp and Manuel Gottsching. There’s also a slight country twang at times that brings to mind Chill Out from KLF or maybe I’m thinking about Godspeed You Black Emperor.
About the only criticism I could give this release is that the some of the song titles are a bit goofy. Names like “Two Is Ambient”, “Chalk Is Organised Dust” and “No Candy No Can Do” are just plain silly…they need to stop that. But if that’s the only thing bad I can say about the disc, this must be a pretty great album. I do really like the picture of the Concorde on the cover. Really lends an air of retro nostalgia to the design.
So why didn’t anybody tell me about Darkroom? This is something that I would have definitely been grateful to find out about. When none of my friends or family lets me in on these things I have to get this information off the streets. While I might need to apologize for all the namedropping in this review, I would honestly suggest that if you are into any of those names, you should definitely check this out.
Full review here
Darkroom is an ambient/electronica group comprised of Michael Bearpark (guitar) and Andrew "Os" Ostler (keyboards and loops). They describe their sound as a cross between freeform jazz and Fripp/Eno-style ambient looping. The brief for Some of These Numbers Mean Something (sometimes abbreviated SOFTMS), released last October 10th, describes the album as "guitar under a microscope." The press release defines it further as a combination 70s space rock, 80s Sheffield electronica, 60s guitar instrumentals and 90s post rock. The 70s and 60s descriptions seemed quite apt for the opening track, "The Valley Of Ten Thousand Smokes", which sounded quite psychedelic and dream-like. Continuing on, the release states:
Seems to be a fair statement. The guitar licks throughout the album have a very old-school, organic feel to them, although the electronica tones sound more contemporary much of the time. Either way, it does remind me slightly of music when "classic" rockers played synthesizers with much less shame and Brian Eno was still ahead of his time. Moreover, Improvizone, which describes itself as "recurring live music evening of electronic/ambient/chillout beats and soundscapes by people with amplified instruments and bits and pieces of technology", in which Darkroom performs from place to place, goes further. "If the first thing that surprised me was how composed the music is on this album, the second was what Os did with the drums," wrote Andrew Booker (who has also performed with them) on the Improvizone site. It definitely sounds like the two really strive to keep their recordings as close to their live performances without the need for heavy editing.
Mixing classic synthesizer & guitar tones with contemporary post-production, this album combines improvisation with carefully crafted and layered arrangement, and rewards repeated listening.
When not working with Darkroom, Os runs a site called Expert Sleepers, where he makes music software for Mac OS and Windows, some of which was used for SOFTMS.
You can pick up Some of These Numbers Mean Something through burningshed.com or itunes
Full review here
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.
Although I play on several tracks on SOTNMS, I feel impartial enough to be able to write about it, having had very little to do with making this music beyond turning up to my regular practice session in a rehearsal room in Tottenham Hale on Wednesday 16 April 2008 and flapping a couple of sticks up and down for a few hours. Hardly hard work for me.
Plenty of hard work has gone into this album though. The first thing that strikes me when I listen is the complexity of this work, relative to what you would expect from a group known for its ambient output. This is an album that Os has painstakingly put together out of Mike's guitar parts and his keyboard textures, and it's an approach that works really well. You get the Bearpark spontaneity and ingenuity that we're used to hearing live, and you get to hear what Os is capable of when he doesn't have to do live looping during a gig. There are organised chord and mood changes, and pieces with solid forms and arrangements.
For example, opener The Valley Of Ten Thousand Smokes has the initial signs of a techno track, but its programmed beat is a framework for a series of sinister/melancholy Bearpark phrases, sweeping in at different registers. As much rock action as ambience.
If the first thing that surprised me was how composed the music is on this album, the second was what Os did with the drums. I thought he wanted material for looping. In other words, during the session, I was trying to play reasonably well, but wasn't bothering about getting a good take. I'd never heard the material, and assumed Os would just chop and loop the good bits of what was usually a single take. I didn't realise he was going to use large sections of unedited playing. Perhaps neither did he. Mercury Shuffle, the most straight-ahead track on the album, is a case in point. The feel is late summer evening looking west over a Dagenham factory as the sun sets. By the sound of it, Os used the drums pretty much as I played them. Towards the end I start messing up, and take the entire track down with me.
My Sunsets Are All One-Sided begins with a 50s electronica Raymond Scott feel with something that sounds like a steel drum in reverse. Then some rolling taps echo in the background, and it takes on an new shape and the excitement mounts, pauses a couple of times, then swoops back in with pounding piano, offbeat post-rock distorted drums and looped guitar swells. It's pretty thrilling.
More futuristic electronica arrives in the form of No Candy No Can Do, a piece full of character and one of my favourites, with a sublime jazzy lilt and lounge guitar sounding like it was played in an enormous 23nd century shopping mall. Terrific, and contrasted nicely by the next piece, Two Is Ambient. This one has a thrillingly sinister and menacing downbeat groove, acoustic guitar adding to the tension and unease. Dirty drums drag in and out, it goes gently mad towards the end, slowly taking itself to pieces around the meandering beat.
In the brilliantly titled Chalk Is Organised Dust, sci-fi sweeps and burbles give way to a wiry string section and a slightly wonky assembly-line shuffling drum loop. Like watching an amateur production of Fritz Lang's Metropolis played out in telephone exchange in the 1940s, from your vantage point on a grassy knoll. Following the bitter-sweet pastorale of Insecure Digital which finishes all too soon, the album closes with an acoustic flourish introducing Turtles All The Way Down, which quickly descends into some demonic Bearpark distortion. By the time the drums kick in, it's gripping, the tense pulsing and chugging guitar constantly suggesting it's going to break into something else. It doesn't. In the end, again the drums fall apart and take the rest of the track with them.
Overall, the album is a great showcase for the dual Darkroom strengths. Mike's endless imagination and sound palette with Os's arrangement and production skills combine to a fine mix of beauty and tension. While albums of this genre, constructed from samples recycled from other music, can sound awkward and disjointed, this one is no Frankenstein's Monster. All the source material is organically home-grown, and the result is coherent and human.
While they were chosing the album cover, Mike showed me the candidates. His favourite was the dated concord photo, in its a day an image of the future, now a dated relic. I particularly like this, Mike said, pointing to the flowery-patterned fold-up chair in the bottom left corner. Improvizone regular Nick Cottam and I were in a cheesy band several years ago, for which, as a symbol of my appreciation of this, I am happy to tell you I wore a thin nylon shirt with a strikingly similar design.
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Darkroom (www.darkroomtheband.net), as you all know, are LD members Michael Bearpark on guitars and loops and Andrew "Os" Ostler on keyboards and laptop. Guest musician on this album is electric drummer Andrew Booker who runs the Improvizone concert series in London - Darkroom + Andrew Booker are Improvizone's backbone and play on most of their gigs, often with guest musicians (e.g. I had the privilege to play with them last November, see the livelooping2007 page on my website). Usually, Os controls his own Augustus Loop plugin to loop not only his synths but also Mike's guitar while sending a clock signal to Andrew for the drums so that he can synchronize his drum delays, to add further rhythmical complexity.
btw two weeks ago I was very happy to see Mike Bearpark and Andrew Booker as part of singer Tim Bowness's band No-Man on the German leg of their September mini-tour - they did a wonderful job and it was a great evening.
The new Darkroom album ("file under Ambient Stadium Rock") contains nine improvised pieces. Mike's guitars are generally in the foreground - so much that the original album title was "place guitar under microscope". What strikes me every time I listen to Darkroom, and also on this album, is their specific sound: it is an organic whole - evolving, open, and full of rich textures while often containing surprising changes. There is never extensive soloing - maybe that would stand out too much and is therefore sacrificed for the sake of a more organic group sound. While Os contributes beautiful, often cinematic washes of chords, the complex and energetic rhythmic foundation laid down by Andrew Booker and the various distortion sounds often applied to Mike's guitars turn the Darkroom sound into something that often definitely goes beyond mere ambient music. Ambient with teeth, maybe.
My absolute favorite on this one is "No Candy No Can Do" which combines gorgeous Rhodes arpeggios, Hawaiian guitars and dreamy, unusual dub-like rhythms - this track is drenched in reverb and reminds me very much of 50's exotica, not so much because of the sound but because it immedately switches on images of faraway islands in my brain. Wonderful!
Buy this album today from http://www.burningshed.com/store/darkroom/product/16/1172/
- Michael (www.michaelpeters.de)
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