Hiroshima’s Akatombo (Paul T. Kirk, originally from Scotland) is a chronicler of urban disillusionment and decay. His beatscapes hearken back to the industrial pioneers of the mid-80s, but his sound is decidedly contemporary, a mix of drums, bass, bleached tones and samples that veer from dub (“Melt Again”) to club (“The Right Mistake”). When listening, one detects a sense of anomie, a feeling that the artist may have been trapped in the city too long, exposed to too many of its cracks and crumbles. Given this exposure – this emotional irradiation – one may choose to fold or to dance. Akatombo generously provides both options.
While watching the videos on the 6-track DVD (a gift for early purchasers), one gains the impression that Kirk feels a great fondness for his subjects, be they concrete or human, discarded or embraced. The images – the bottom half of a man passed out, the coldness of a subway station, the disturbingly gleeful wave of a cardboard cowboy – form a disconnected love letter, an inside view that is simultaneously jaded and determined to be less so. The best of these, “Sand Collector” (from Unconfirmed Reports) piles layers of bubble and ash atop images of gravel, bulldozers, and a woman whose expression shifts from contemplative to frightened. The colors are brighter than those in the other videos, indicative of a hope that may not yet be extinguished. One wonders about the city as character and the role it may play in the attitudes of its inhabitants.
The best tracks display more than mood; they reverberate with sass. Makoto Kuboto’s guitar makes the difference on the surprisingly western-sounding “Dominion”, while Audrey Boggs’ violin adds depth to “Hikiko Mon”. The latter track lends the album an emotional tug, a counterbalance to the coldness of the programming. As it begins to wind down, one already misses the empathy of the strings. The ensuing track, “Necessary Fiction” (also on the DVD) implies disappointment through title and timbre; it’s the album’s bleakest piece, bordering on dark ambient. But the beats do return, allowing the listener to face the dark, perhaps even to move through it with renewed determination. It’s as if Kirk is saying, “Hiroshima may be a place of shadows, but shadows require light to exist.” So long, rolling hills; hello, girder and brick. (Richard Allen)