Recording as AeTopus, Bryan Tewell Hughes finds a shady spot between New Age, tribal and world music, and settles in to tell his story, Between Empires. And a fine story it is, moving from the familiar to the exotic, well paced and descriptive in its tones. Hughes stretches to hit a number of borders here, and pulls them all off nicely. The opener, “Face of the Past,” kicks in with a strong tribal feel courtesy of potent drumming from Michael Bajuk. (His percussion work underscores many of the tracks here and is instrumental in switching up the feel of the pieces.) Snaky drones, reminiscent of didgeridoo, and long-exhaling hisses and pads curl in the background before Hughes widens and lightens the space and the piece takes on the feel of a dance. “Enshrined” presents itself like a madrigal, cello-like string sounds humming a melody over plucked strings. There’s an interesting rustic, folksy tone to it that’s very catchy. Hughes cites 80s New Age icon Ray Lynch as an influence, and you’ll hear that loud and strong in the kalimba-like chimes that bounce in the background of “Vast” as sequencers and synth strings come together to craft a strong cinematic feel. (Although I have to say that the watery, creaky atmospherics at the end don’t work for me–it pulled me out of the pure listening experience, and I thought I’d moved on to another track.) For straight-up cool, head directly to “Coaster.” Laid-back rhythms and a slow-boil beat blend in a dark brew, Bajuk’s percussion making a perfect mold for Hughes to fill with sound. “The Gate” is the best balance of electronic and organic here, a starshine sequencer line repeating itself over percussion. This is one of those gets-in-your-bloodstream pieces, and may be my favorite here. Drama meets flavor. The closer, “Smiling in the Park,” all but belongs to Bajuk, his mix of hand drums, shakers and shells dancing over the ambient wash of warm, liquid synth pads. Field recordings bring us to the end of the story.
Between Empires is a very pleasant listen. It’s the got the end-of-day ease of a good New Age disc, but its shifting world flavors give it a lift. Not every track hits with me 100%, but I’ve often found myself quite wrapped up in the rhyhtms at work and Hughes’ excellent sense of sonic storytelling. Kudos must also be given for the artwork, a collaboration between Hughes, who has a graphic design background, and Ariana Burns. It’s simple but gorgeous, and carries the disc’s theme nicely. Have a look here.
Available from 12Ton.