Akatombo's debut for the ever-changing Swim Records is an album that defies categorisation. Its very title, Trace Elements, seems to suggest discovering the subconscious—things that you always see, hear and feel, but that are just out of reach. In many ways, the album echoes this idea, with its eclectic material forming the soundtrack to a city's life.
The atmospheric, crunchy Dry Loop is intense, but hopeful—a direct contrast to the dour, oppressive, guitar-drenched Inscrutable, which nonetheless proves to be one of the album's highlights due to its sheer power. Layered, industrial grinds are peppered throughout: Humid's hypnotic loops remind of life's routine, while Non-Returnable's sirens create a chilling mood, bringing to mind factories and air-raids.
Such emotions are countered by the fragmented, yet catchy Overheat, samples of the city dancing within. Trace Elements twists again with Cicada's clattering beat and lengthy electric guitar chords evoking feelings of a lengthy road journey, while Bad Cop's slight hip-hop leanings lend it a film-like feel. Elsewhere, relaxed ambiance seeps in: the final two tracks, Twisted and Panacea, are both dream-like, trace elements of the trace elements within.
Apparently, main protagonist Paul Kirk recorded and mixed each track within a day, but this doesn't show—the release sounds professional, if not particularly polished. Perhaps it's this approach that lends the album its sense of urgency and freshness. It's certainly unlike anything else on the Swim catalogue, and while initial feelings of displacement, alienation and rapid shifts in direction seem a little cold at first, the warmth and the emotions subsequently induced combine to make this one of the best albums so far released in 2003.
Craig Grannell (July, 2003)