Rapoon - Darker By Light [Zoharum - 2019]Robin Storey's Rapoon project has existed since the early 90's, formed after his departure from industrial soundscape collective Zoviet France. Rapoon's music is renowned for its surreal dream-like feeling and convincing tribal atmosphere. As I generally prefer Storey's classic earlier work, it is with great pleasure that I approach the task of reviewing this 1996 album, Darker By Light, now re-issued in remastered form by Zoharum. As Rapoon's discography is quite vast, this album is one that I had never previously listened to.
My initial impression is that this album is similar to Storey's 1993 masterpiece, Vernal Crossing; certainly a good thing, as it is still my favorite of his career. While later works explore the clouded, spacey end of his soundscape world, or employ an entirely different palette of digital drum machine textures, Vernal Crossing (and much of Darker By Light) is based around loops of hand drums. The beaten skin timbres are organic, rounded and full of bass, displaced into an astral dimension by the unnatural electronic repetition. The mind is carried along with the gently implied midtempo rhythms like a canoe on a river.
As it progresses, I ascertain this album is decidely darker and more minimal than Vernal Crossing, as well as more modern, absent the flutes and voice samples that made that album feel like an actual field recording of a jungle tribe. The drums are muffled and pulled further back into the distance. Gusts of ash dark wind swirl rhythmically in stereo through the crevices in each beat, recalling the ominous dark dub landscapes of Mick Harris' Scorn project. There is a subterranean, train tunnel feeling to pieces like "Lies and Propaganda". The tracks are long for the purposes of deeper hypnosis.
The distant murmurings of "Tidal Transmissions" and "Sunday's Shadows" are like echoes heard from another room, vaporous transparent spaces, where the percussion is only hinted. Muted, low octave string pads make frequent appearances, charging the air with emotion and magical energy. As it turns out, the last chunk of the album is entirely beatless. In the end, it is most similar to the clouded deep ambient of another 1996 Rapoon album, Errant Angels. It is a heavily processed and shadowed ambiguity.
I love the title Darker by Light, which seems to perfectly describe the inverted nature of closed eye hallucinations, common subject matter for those within this British school of psychic ambient music (which to my mind includes Coil, Nurse With Wound, Nocturnal Emissions, Current 93 and others).
I'm personally glad that this album does not contain a superflous bonus disk of alternative mixes and reinterpretations, as many of the other Zoharum re-issues do. The original full length disks tend to be far superior; there is something to be said for a concise musical statement. This 'remaster' is also satisfactory. While it does not sound noticably better to my ears than the original 90's issues of Rapoon recordings, the sound has not been damaged or interfered with in any way (unlike the latest Residents re-issues!).
I enjoyed this album, though it does not feel as directed or fascinatingly unique as Vernal Crossing. It is a document of Storey gradually moving away from tribal realms into a dark ambient direction that would come to be the characteristic sound of Rapoon in the following years. It fits perfectly alongside Errant Angels as a darker successor of the initial few Rapoon recordings. It's not among my favorite Rapoon albums, but it's a solid one.Josh Landry