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Akatombo, "Unconfirmed Reports"

cover imageBack from a long hiatus after a single critically acclaimed release (Trace Elements, on Colin Newman’s Swim~ label), Paul Thomsen Kirk reappears from his Hiroshima based enclave with a new, lavishly packaged album that blends electronic atmospheres, old school industrial textures, dubby bass, and breakbeats with compelling virtuosity.

 

Hand-Held Recordings

My first sampling of this disc reminded me of the mid 1990s ambient/isolationist dub scene that produced a number of short lived but excellent projects that peaked too early:  Techno Animal’s Re-Entry  and Scorn’s Evanescence rank within my all time favorite albums, yet soon after their releases the former began to lean too heavily on various distortion plugins and the latter became content to simply layer a hip-hop beat over basic abstract sounds.  My comparison isn’t to say Unconfirmed Reports sounds dated, because it doesn’t, instead it takes the best elements of that period and sustains them with enough modern technique and technology to sound fresh.  The mostly dense, chaotic mixes somewhat parallel the likes of Meat Beat Manifesto or the Bomb Squad’s production work with Public Enemy, but replacing the funk elements in both with dark industrial bleakness.

Album opener "Friend for Hire" uses the dub scene’s love of deep reverbed bass to keep the dark atmospherics going, but layers a variety of synth tracks on top and a rhythm right off of the best electro records keep the song flowing, and though it does lock into a minimalist repetition, there is enough change and variation to keep it from growing stagnant.  The following "Pragmatism" is more dynamic, but still retains a definite structure, letting fragments of electric guitar and voice samples into the otherwise synthetic sounds.  To me it sounds like it could have been a stand-out track on either of the landmark Macro Dub Infection compilations that surveyed dub influenced electronica of the day.

While the elements are notable throughout, the traditionalist industrial vibe comes to the surface on "Cypher" and "The Sand Collector."  The former takes synths that sound like feedback (or feedback that sounds like synths) into raw clipping territory, and replaces any drums with a precise bass sequence and heavily processed voices.  Structurally and atmospherically it feels a lot like early Cabaret Voltaire (think Mix Up or before).  "The Sand Collector" cranks up the distortion on the synths and rhythms to push it precariously close to harsh noise territory, but exercises enough restraint to remain in control.  While "Cypher" was Cabaret Voltaire, this could be a 21st century take on SPK’s Information Overload Unit or Leichenschrei due to the raw, yet rhythmic elements.  The feedback loop that is prevalent throughout the track actually sounds a whole lot like it could be a sample from "Ground Zero: Infinity Dose," but that could be just coincidence.

Other tracks aren’t as bleak, with "SSRI" throwing jazzy breakbeats and a hip-hop bass line together with slightly surf guitar.  There is still the industrial/mechanical din in the distance, but is more upbeat and lighter in comparison to some of the aforementioned tracks.  "Portable Pariah" has a more spacious mix and even with the noisy loops and textures, feels more airy and open, allowing greater access to the synths and the catchy beats.  The closing "A Prior Disengagement" acts as an amalgamation of the entire disc, showcasing blown speaker hip-hop beats with almost acid synth sequences and shrieking noises and fragments of voice communication, combining the more musical elements of the album with the more harsh ones.

Unconfirmed Reports successfully extracts some of the best elements of 1990s electronic music and puts them in a modern, though dark, context.  The disc comes lavishly packaged in an oversized envelope with large inserts, hand-cut newspaper clippings, and a bonus DVD-R of short films to three of the tracks, all of which combine the music with treated video of Japan that emphasizes the sense of alienation and disconnect that the music demonstrates.  

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