Expert Sleepers – 25th August 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Fallout 4 is, as the title suggests, the fourth album in Darkroom’s Fallout trilogy.

Darkroom have been going for more than twenty years now, and have built up an extensive catalogue centred around fluid ambient work, which they’re keen to point out ‘stretches the definition of the genre to its limits in many directions: from quiet, introspective and naturalistic through celestial and melodic to intense, abrasive and synthetic.’

In presenting three longform compositions, Fallout 4 affords the collective to fully explore all of these elements.

As the accompanying notes explain, ‘Darkroom’s music has always been played not programmed, with a focus on human interaction and capturing the magic of live performance’, and the first two pieces hark back to the last performance of their 2012 tour. ‘It’s Clear from the Air’ is hypnotic, rippling, mesmerising, low, undulating drones providing a subtle low end to the textured interweaving synths that overlay subtle yet complex rhythms.

It bleeds into the twenty-five minute ‘Qaanaak (Parts 1 & 2)’ and immediately the tone is darker, denser, with a grumbling low and needling pulsations that create tension within the suffocatingly thick, beatless smoggy atmosphere. You find yourself lost, in suspension, somewhat bewildered as the tones twist and change. Electronic flares whip and lash as stuttering beats emerge through the relentlessly nagging pulsations, and continue to shift and mutate to a broiling, bubbling larva as booming bass tones surge and swell. The rhythm grows in urgency, but it’s muffled, constrained, which heightens the experience of a sense of airlessness and entrapment and as much as the throbbing oscillations are indebted to Can and Tangerine Dream, their abrasive edge hints at the uneasy, wheezing synth grind of Suicide.

The third piece, ‘Tuesday’s Ghost’ is perhaps the most conventionally ambient’ of the three, and is certainly the most overtly ‘background’ as is swims and floats and chimes along fuzzy lines of slow decay and loose, vague forms that have no shape, rise and fall. There is a discreet linearity to it, as it gradually, and subtly builds in depth and density, and it’s here that it become clear just how essential that human element is to Darkroom’s work – that sense of musicians bouncing off one another and understanding one another through intuition. There is no substitute for it, and you simply can’t programme the dynamics of form. It’s this intuitive, natural fluidity that breathes life into the compositions, and in turn, it’s this sense of life that the listener connects to and engages with. Fallout 4 may be ambient at heart or by genre… but it’s also far beyond the frontier of ambient.

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