This is fun. On When, AeTopus (Bryan Tewell Hughes) finds a spot for world music, traditional folk, tribal, and classic EM—often all at once. Whether it’s the slowed-down Renaissance dance feel of “Sage” or the rich Middle Eastern flavors of “Metanoia,” When‘s reach is pleasantly global. And when the earthy acoustics are set aside for the out-there-somewhere drift of “Quietus Est,” it’s just as effective and engaging. Hughes goes heavy on the percussion on this release, and it’s part of what makes me enjoy it so much. Almost everything is beat-driven, so there’s rarely a need to stop the toe-tapping and head-bobbing. Cool touches abound. “Neverwheel” kicks off like a madrigal on guitar, adds light finger-tap drumming and beautiful string sounds, and laces it through with smooth electronics. It’s a great old-world-meets-new-world piece. The strolling jazz bass line that kicks off “Gather” is a great surprise, which just gets better as Hughes develops his sounds around it. It’s got a serpentine feel and, like many tracks here, a touch of exotic flavor—an incense smoke kind of thing, if you will. “Hindsight Axiom” blends acoustic guitar with a strong spacey feel. The start has a nice tenuous/minimal feel, which Hughes breaks with a sudden burst of chord and some dense low end. Familiar synth runs, that kind of “music of the future” glissando, arc like comet trails in places. Hughes plays with the shimmering sound of the chords late in the track; they sound wonderfully large.
Hughes’ compositions are deep and robust, with many levels of sound crossing and layering. You can hear how carefully each element is placed and why it’s even there. The mix of acoustic and electronic is balanced with just enough bias given to the acoustics to lend the whole album its signature tone, that sense that Hughes has reached back in time for his sources, then electrified them just a touch. When is a pure pleasure to listen to, and I think it may represent AeTopus at the current top of his game. Can’t wait to hear what comes next.
Available from AeTopus’ website.