With his 2012 release, Between Empires, nabbing Best Electronic Album of the Year in the Zone Music Reporter awards, AeTopus (aka Bryan Tewell Hughes) set his own bar pretty high for his next release. Angels and Machines is a quick hit, with five tracks coming in under half an hour, but it’s loaded with Hughes’ noteworthy mix of classic electronic music and world music. The title track (the first of two thus named) carries a Celtic feel with lute-like strings, high, singing flute and the rap of the bodrhan. Mid-track, Hughes hits a shift in tempo that immediately modernizes it without dropping its old-world trappings. “Reflecting in the Glass” takes on an Eastern tone; the main sound is similar to a Japanese shamisen, backed with wood-block percussion, and overall the piece reminds me of Azuma, a Private Music artist from the 80s. It’s catchy and light. Vocalist Vivian Lee offers a chant over a hurrying sequencer and drone on “Origins.” Here the tone is dramatic and a touch tribal, driven along by drums and the urgent tone of the sequencer. Hughes builds this one nicely to its sacred music-inspired conclusion. “Alley of Dust and Soul” creeps in on twanging, resonating bass strings and a plodding rhythm. Flute makes a great counterpoint, the balance of low and high, dark and light. The second “Angels and Machines” closes the disc with a similar feel to “Alley…” It’s a bit on the shadowy side at first but blossoms into a pleasing New Age tune in spots, prancing in on plucked strings reminiscent of harpsichord or duclimer before paring paring back down and snapping shut. Hughes is an extremely detail-oriented composer, and Angels and Machines is a disc that needs a close listen. There’s a rich depth at play, and the interplay between even the smallest sounds is complex and vital. I’ve enjoyed this disc not just for its diversity of approach, but for the dynamic changes that happen within each track. Hughes tells stories, and they’re quite clear. Yes, it’s something of an appetizer in length, but there’s a lot of flavor to enjoy. AeTopus is an artist to keep an ear on.
Available from 12 Ton.