AeTopus Cup (2023)
Updated: Nov 14
“You have to give yourself time to discover an album like CUP”
1 Pure 4:45
2 Clean Break 3:40
3 Beam 6:34
4 Relic 5:45
5 Sygna 5:10
6 Drue 4:24
7 They Know 4:57
8 Glance 2:05
9 Access 4:47
10 Sundial 5:23
11 Advert 4:13
12 Memento 4:56
13 Softgreen 7:02
(CD-Digipack/DDL 63:46) (V.F.)
(Ambient Prog New Age Psybient)
As I've discovered more and more about electronic music (EM), I've often noticed that this art form has always exported itself a little better on tracks whose lengths allowed the ears to go from discoveries to audacities. Shorter titles were sorely lacking in time to justify themselves, and always served the soundtrack cause a little better. That's the first impression I had when I set out to discover CUP. This first CD from AeTopus on the Spotted Peccary label offers a palette of 13 tracks averaging no more than 5 minutes in length. AeTopus is the brainchild of Bryan Hughes, a musician who rolls its hump since the 80's and who has dabbled in every style except rock and progressive rock. His grandparents were fans of Kitaro and Ray Lynch, hence the subtle New Age approach behind the fragmented and/or floating melodies found here and there in CUP's dimensions. His 3rd album, Between Empires, was voted best New Age album of 2012. CUP is his 8th album and is inspired by the Zen movement and the parable of the Broken Cup, which teaches acceptance in the face of misfortune. In concrete terms, this translates into a tonally rich EM, meshing the sonic textures of nature with acoustic instruments, such as guitars and percussions, and EM instruments. Get used to the short structures that are filled with a horde of sounds, including a good selection of cadenced chords, percussions and percussive elements in lush panoramas where nature and cosmos are merging their concepts. The album gets off to a slow start, eventually offering a second half that justifies expectations and recommends listening to the album again from its beginnings. All in all, a wonderful discovery!
Pure begins this adventure into the land of Bryan Hughes sounds with a suspended rhythm structure. Short series of cadenced chords jerk along in the grooves of a synth that traces an undulating, ghostly line of melody with a slightly melancholy air. This movement, whose impetuosity is full of restraint, and the melody unfold in a minimalist context that will haunt our ears until late in the day. The track's rich musical scope is immediately apparent, with acoustic tones intermingling with more electronic ones in a fusion of rhythm and ambiences that harmonize despite their short interludes without conductive threads. The structure and panorama of Pure is a concept that extends to the majority of CUP's ones. Its final third evolves this vision of repetitive bits of rhythm and harmony with the arrival of percussions, keyboard riffs and orchestrations that give more energy to Pure, of which the backdrop is arranged by further arpeggios and effects that float and drift in an atmosphere more esoteric than cosmic. Clean Break's approach is based on a texture of sequences that sculpt a stealthily advance. The synth breaks away to let out a nice melody which coos in loops. Sound effects, layers of seraphic vocals and the addition of other sequences, hopping around in the shadow of the main structure, are the main elements of charm that encircle this circular movement, which deploys some good harmonic zigzags in its finale. The drizzling winds at the origin of Beam are transformed into a bank of floating drones. Ornamental rattling of percussions are more decorative than rhythmic in this meditative opening. Layers of vocals, some of them sibylline, and vaporous orchestrations also complement this opening, which reminds me that I'll have to listen to Robert Plant's In the Mood again later. A fracture comes at the 4-minute mark, with an active sequencer launching chords resonating with an organic vibe. These croaking effects come and go without any rhythmic will, and are supported by an underlying line of sequences, whose arpeggios shimmer in suspension, and percussions that structure a more driving finale. Relic is one of the best tracks on this CUP. A track which is easy to get used to from the start! It's served up in a sound envelope roughly similar to that of Beam, minus the water, but richer in its disparate percussion elements that structure a slow, bouncy, harmonic rhythm. The percussion here is performed by Mike Bajuk, who is also ex-officio on Glance and Sundial.
Like many of the tracks on this album, Sygna is an oasis of sounds for the ears. Its opening is rich in sonic flora, where distant chirps are lost in a layer of buzzing mist. Arpeggios tinkle and the synth chirps, while drone rushes add a cinematic vision of foreboding drama. Here too, AeTopus is creative in its choice of percussive tones, which always add honeyed sonic candy to the ears. While arpeggios burst into rhythmic starbursts, the percussions structure a slow, faun-like procession. An ambient tribal rhythm that the brilliance of the arpeggios accompanies with a spectral harmonic vision. A little more and we're in the psybient! Bold chords and orchestrations amplify the track's dramatic content. From Relic onwards, we sense that Bryan Hughes is more daring. With rhythm and non-rhythm gravitating in suspended phases, Drue is in the same vein as Patrick O'Hearn's music on his Ancient Dreams to Eldorado albums, the play of bass in less. A meditative track with orchestrations woven into emotional intensity! Another track with a cinematic dimension, They Know is on the same scale as Drue, with the added bonus of a little oriental melody behind its heavy meditative canvas. We stay a little in this Asian dimension with Glance, a track based mainly on the power of percussions and percussive chords that develops with a good dose of intensity. In my opinion, it's too short! Another track that's also too short is Access, of which the rhythm flirts with the frontiers of EDM in a musical and sonic envelope that embraces that of Solar Fields' best moments. It's very good, as is Sundial, an EDM track more in line with my expectations of discovering other sources of Berlin School. Incidentally, the tone of the sequences is like La Belle Époque. At first, they gambol listlessly in winds of buzzing crystals and orchestrations. Rhythmic as well as harmonic, just like Software, they come and go with seductive modulations in the timbre and their hesitant surges. The sequencer activates good ratcheting effects, while the percussions follow a progression between its distant charges, eventually migrating towards a very good electronic rock. These 2 tracks join my audiophile network player's section of best tracks of EM in 2023. Advert flows into our ears like a rain of chords hesitating to fall. A shadow of bass settles in, and its modulatory arcs are weaving curved arabesques where these chords and their dimensional shadows tinkle. The percussions, or its effects, the sequences and the bass pulsations keep beating without ever reaching a rhythmic homogeneity, keeping the music awake like our senses and ears half-subjugated by this little universe of paradoxes. Speaking of undulatory arcs, Memento is a superb track with waves gently twirling in an astral choreography whose evolution and orchestrations give us goosebumps. It has also joined this list on my Cambridge network player. Softgreen ends CUP in much the same vein as Memento. More driving, with a fine, spasmodic rhythmic backbone, the music is also more electronic-orchestral, developing bolero-mode rotational phases under a fine combination of nervous, jerky sequencer and sober percussions. In the tradition of Software's best tracks!
You have to take your time, give yourself time, to discover an album like CUP. The music of AeTopus, at least here, is a veritable goldmine for those who like to discover a rich sonic flora and the contradictions that differentiate its nature. In this respect, the mixing and mastering are simply breathtaking. There are some gems on this album that are well worth your time. Another excellent release from Spotted Peccary!
Sylvain Lupari (November 13th, 2023) *****
Available at Spotted Peccary Music
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