Misfit City - Seethrough

Transparent neither in style nor intent, Darkroom's second album is demanding, mysterious; trickily opaque. Not an unfamiliar position for this most obscure, obscured and inexplicable of ambient/illbient groups.

The billowing instrumentals of Darkroom's first album, 'Daylight', made their points obliquely through a spray of trip-hop grace, thick detail and industrial derangement. And about half of 'Seethrough' follows a similar path - baleful/beautiful semi-improvised noisescapes of layered electronics, angrily stewing loop guitar and naked, caress-through-to-howl voice. The glutinous, dubbed-up 'Galaxy Craze' has resident synth necromancer Os firing off ratlike background rattles and spectral drum'n'bass rhythm triggers - a threatening arrhythmic undulation with Tim Bowness' minimal, wraithlike subway singing menaced by fretless-bass probing like a giant animal's tongue.

In contrast to the aviary-heat of Michael Bearpark's textured guitar, old-school '80s synthpop riffs underpin 'Charisma Carpenter'. These OMD tinklings are an unexpectedly cheerful counterpart to Tim's lustrous, vaporous vocal chanting - always the most bizarre aspect of Darkroom's music. Singing mere tumbling vowels or sounds on the edge of becoming words, he delivers them with an eerily precise, chilly diction: like droplets of lovesong, freezing to alien sleet as soon as they leave his mouth.

Only 'Kaylenz', though, hints at the shocking intensity of Darkroom on full, live, improvising intensity. Fourteen sprawling, disorientating minutes with the tension between the celestial and the pestilential growing ever more violent. Electronica loops shade upwards into alarm, distorted hospital bells shrill, and the country-toned guitar tang gives way to sharp buzz-edged swarming. The vocals, too, travel from weary, loving sorrow to a hysterical pitch of recriminations and a dash of lyrical perversity. Just before 'Kaylenz' steps up - or breaks down - into a chaotic torrent of frighteningly emotional randomness, we hear Tim singing in a lost corner of the studio. A bored, beautiful detached whisper of "you again, you again - / who's to blame, if it's all the same?"

Which brings us to the wild card of 'Seethrough' - presenting Darkroom's songwriting side, sketching withering surreal portraits of disenchantment and alienation helped along by spacey glissandos of electric slide guitar. They've dabbled in words before (on the drum'n'bass/Fripp & Eno soundclash of the 'Carpetworld' single) but here it's more leisurely, more controlled, more disturbing. In some ways extending Tim's work on the cryptic dark-city musings of No-Man's 'Wild Opera', in others it reflects the burnt-out, amoral contemplations of Tricky's surreal, spliff-fuelled 'Maxinquaye'. Although if so, this is Tricky as played by Alec Guinness, dropping casual, vinegar-dry references to both Def Leppard and Janet Frame while somehow maintaining a ghostly mystique unhindered by the flapping of library cards. On the bobbing Morricone-meets-Orb dub of 'King Of The Cowboy Singers', Tim's guarded, musical speaking voice recites both nonsense and significance to the beat - "trying to find a new life in an old boot, /
walking to the new place in your old suit - / the king of the cowboy singers, / the toast of the Old School dinners..." The roiling, improvised star-stuff that usually pools out of Darkroom's speakers is swapped for Dada-tinged narratives of shifting identities and habits, of introverted, stiffly English insanity and implosions of starched order.

But if Darkroom are no longer playing live from the surface of the sun, they've only retreated as far as a ski-lodge on Mercury. The glimpses of sky are always a bright merciless glare, the ground always dry dust, the scenery just a few steps away from white-out. Surly and blinded, 'Bludgeon Riffola' surfaces through a swimming of harness bells as a filthy punk-blues fed through post-rock and tracer-paths of needling synth-noise, Tim's petulant vocals rope-swung and curdled with distortion. And the album's masterpiece - the ten-minute stretch of 'Bottleneck' - is blindingly white and exposed; a sinister mixture of Aphew Twin and Bill Frisell. Sparse, desolate slide guitar is chewed at by Os' echoing dead-sea-surf static and smeared brass textures. Tim's lonesome vocal (once it finally arrives) rides a stately dance of plucked orchestra strings, drawing out the shapes of a puzzle of betrayal and disgust. The charges are clear - "You never really loved your wife... / you never really knew your boys... / you never even liked the girl you said had claimed your heart - restart, restart." But the story's obscured: gaps between snapshots swallow it up. The figure of a man is reduced to a hat, a cigarette; an unfinished meal; an absence.

Then again, Darkroom aren't here to provide clarity. 'Seethrough' itself seals the album in a light and feverish running pulse, frosted by far-off gilded sprays of quiet prog rock guitar. It's tremulously sweet and frantic - trance-techno that's neurotic rather than narcotic - and with a blurred, vocoder-ed vocal that queries the giddy transcendence of the music. "Too much misunderstanding; too much, too little love. / Too much to keep your hand in, too much to float above." Dancing lightly on its feet, it moves with the crowd only to slip away quietly as the dreams evaporate. "Too much deliberation, too much you want to be. / Too much anticipation, too much you'll never see - see through, seethrough."

Blink, and it's gone. Darkroom tease us with clarity, but lead us to a vanishing in the end.

Dann Chinn

Original article

The AMG All Music Guide - Seethrough

The debut Darkroom release was an Internet-only affair -- seven tracks of experimental dance approaches meshed with Bowness' brand of confessional, emotionally intense pop. Given No-Man's work in that field, the jump to Darkroom wasn't a surprise, but wisely, the latter group doesn't set out to simply replicate the former -- this isn't No-Man with a different set of musicians. The emphasis is on low, moody atmospherics instead of the blend of brightness and shade that defines the Tim Bowness/Steven Wilson partnership. Bearpark's guitar playing generally concentrates on simpler, quietly hypnotic electric runs and shades, while Os' beats are swathed in heavy echo and gently trippy treatments. Bowness' singing matches this overall setting as well. Instead of the direct, cutting singing he practices in Samuel Smiles in partnership with Bearpark, on Seethrough he generally underplays his strengths to great effect, suggesting rather than stating boldly. The overall result isn't dance music in the stereotypical late '90s sense, but a recombination of various elements with quietly fascinating end results. A number of standouts suggest themselves from the seven songs, most notably the two longest cuts. "Bottleneck," which appeared on a later Samuel Smiles album in much different form, here starts with two overlaid Bearpark guitar pieces and a skittering rhythm from Os before building up to a frenetic, noisy high point and then suddenly back again. Bowness only then starts singing toward the end, making for a dreamy, unsettling coda. "Kaylenz," meanwhile, slowly but surely builds into a quite lovely and lush combination of shimmering melodies before taking a turn for the murkily aggressive toward the end. There's some definite flashes of humor as well -- a louder track, the jazz-touched swing and feedback crunch of "Bludgeon Riffola," is named after Def Leppard's vanity record label in tribute to Bearpark's youthful hard rock dreams.

Ned Raggett

This Is Not Television #6 This Is Not Television #6

A thick drumbeat pushes its sluggardly pulse though King of The Cowboy Singers as though somewhere in the darkness cloying blood clots the veins, a pinprick camera nosing its way through rosy tubes, The nauseous headache of Bottleneck climbs from anaesthesia before spewing venom like a cornered snake in the faux-Stooges "Bludgeoning Riffola". The exquisitely unsettled tribulations of "Charisma Carpenter" give way to a suspended drift that coalesces as Kaylenz. In this sensory deprivation tank, Sunday church bells, heard-imagined (who knows which) toll beyond a curtain of dark disorientation. Seethrough pops and effervesces like seltzer in a glass. For all Darkroom line-up alongside the electronic noodlings of Boards of Canada and Third Eye Foundation, their material seems less theoretical, more densely organic, more messily, intractably human. Sounds with the dangerously hypnotic grace of a snake swimming towards you.

Wendy Cook

No Warning!

Nato con il nome di Collective da un’idea di soundtrack per un documentario sulla famosa autopsia del corpo di un alieno, il progetto Darkroom giunge finalmente al secondo album, dopo quello di esordio Daylight che fu preceduto a sua volta dal singolo Carpetworld. Secondo album uscito, bisogna dirlo, in forma un po anomala, dato che é stato messo a disposizione per download prima sul sito ed in seguito su, sito che offre anche la possibilità di acquistare il prodotto su CDR. Rispetto al precedente Daylight, Seethrough ci mostra Darkroom proseguire la loro ricerca in varie direzioni, giungendo in un paio di episodi (la title track e King Of The Cowboy Singers) a confezionare delle vere e proprie songs, seppure in un’ottica diversa da quella dei No-Man. Bottleneck é una lunga traccia costruita principalmente su una frase di chitarra dal sapore vagamente psichedelico, su cui la voce di Bowness può cimentarsi al meglio secondo il suo inconfondibile stile. Su tutte spicca sicuramente Kaylenz, il pezzo più lungo del disco, che partendo da un bel soundscape dallo stile quasi Frippiano si evolve in una sinistra bolgia di layers che l’ossessivo ed inquietante cantato di Bowness conduce alla conclusione. Seethrough non é sicuramente un disco facile, anzi lo si apprezza pienamente dopo ripetuti ed attenti ascolti, necessari per rimanere avvolti dalla cortina di sonorità che il trio Bearpark/Bowness/Ostler é in grado di produrre. Una piacevole conferma.

According to this translates into English as:

Born with the name of Collective idea of soundtrack for a documentary on the famous autopsy of the body of an alien, the project finally Darkroom comes to the second album, after the onset of Daylight which was in turn preceded by the single Carpetworld. According album released, we must say, somewhat unusual form, as has been made available for download on the site first and later on, site also offers the option to purchase the product on CDR . Compared to the previous Daylight, Seethrough shows us Darkroom continue their research in various directions, coming in a couple of episodes (the title track and King Of The Cowboy Singers) to build real songs, albeit in a different than the No-Man. Bottleneck is a long track built primarily on a guitar phrase taste vaguely psychedelic, on which the voice of Bowness, dare to better according to his unmistakable style. On all Kaylenz certainly stands out, the longest piece of the disc, starting with a beautiful soundscape style almost Frippiano evolves into a left bolgia of layers that obsessive worrying and sang Bowness leads to the conclusion. Seethrough certainly is not an easy disc, in fact you fully appreciate after repeated and careful listening, needed to stay immersed in the wall of sound that the trio Bearpark / Bowness / Ostler is capable of producing. A pleasant confirmation.

Amazingly at the time of writing (January 2008) this article is still up in its original location here.