PROLOGUE: Some instrumental artists inhabit a small niche (e.g., when compared to solo piano) that has no real defined label. Artists in this small group include Patrick O’Hearn, John Flomer, Jon Jenkins, David Helpling, and Bryan T. Hughes, who records as AeTopus. This sub-sub-genre belongs not purely to ambient, as it usually features strong melodic content as well as rhythms that seldom occur in Eno-esque ambient music. In addition, these artists’ music benefits from direct listening for maximum enjoyment which, for most devotees of ambient, is the opposite intention of the genre. While much of their music can be electronic in nature, it certainly doesn’t belong alongside the Berlin school, dub, glitch, or any other offshoots of electronic or ambient music. Likewise, the presence on most of their releases of dynamism rules out spacemusic as well. As a result, it’s an exercise in futility to classify these excellent musicians except to state that all of them make great music. Which brings us to the latest release from AeTopus (Bryan T. Hughes), Urbus
Throughout his career (so far) one of the aspects that has always appealed to me with Hughes’ music is an element of, fort lack of a better term, a mythic sense of power, drama, steeped in a flavor combining fantasy and science fiction. It’s difficult for me to specifically state “how” he does this. However, I always feel that when I listen to his albums, and Urbus underscores these sonic elements, that I am traveling to an unknown and unexplored soundscape . Maybe it’s how he combines subtle tribal percussive rhythms with shifting sands of keyboards and brilliant lead melodies. Maybe part of it is also his song titles themselves (e.g., “Sysisys,” “Zoan,” “Creacyon, “First Ones,” et al.) which could be read as indications of a civilization that exists beyond our norm, either meaning extra-terrestrial or perhaps in a parallel dimension. I don’t propose to define it, per se, but to appreciate its (i.e., the music’s) rare blend of otherworldliness with overt “pleasant” melodic sensibility. This is simply great music to dive into and explore every nook and cranny.
Hughes’ music is never dark in any traditional sense, and while there are subtle, barely discernible moments of what could be construed as playfulness, the overarching music themes are more drenched in mystery, fog, yet with no sensation of menace or threat. For comparison’s sake, one of the albums that Hughes music reminds me of is Robyn Miller’s brilliant soundtrack to the legendary computer game, Riven. So, you can surmise from that comment that Urbus could lend its sonic pleasures to flights of fantasy if one turned out the lights and had an active and visual imagination. Truthfully, I am surprised no one has put this music to videos of something similar to those which accompanied the first two “Mind’s Eye” videos (music by James Reynolds and Jan Hammer, respectively).
A lot of this review may strike you as painting AeTopus’ Urbus as overly cerebral, which is not wholly inaccurate, but all eight tracks are also visceral (i.e., “relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.”). Depending how deep you delve into Urbus, you can be merely aurally entertained or discover hidden pathways to something beyond the notes and melodies. I will leave that crossroads up to you, but regardless of which route you take, it’s going to be a delightful trip.
All tracks composed, performed,
produced and arranged by Bryan T. Hughes
Mixing by Bill Simpkins at Alpenglow Sound Studios, Bellingham, WA
Mastered by Greg Reierson at Rare Form Mastering, Minneapolis, MN
Album color graphics by Amy Poliner