Performing under the name AQ the DreamWalker aka Aquarius, Steve M. Ernenwein has not released music since 2010’s Street Signs to the World Forgotten and his latest effort The Night Sea Journey rates as his most ambitious release yet. You know you are approaching an album with a high bar set for its aims when the artist references Carl Jung and Greek mythology, but Aquarius keeps the songwriting accessible despite those lofty influences. Aquarius makes no bones about the fact this is a personal release and the stakes are quite high – the act of The Night Sea Journey’s creation is an effort directed towards healing rather than just entertainment. It is a chronicle of five years worth of what Aquarius calls his “conscious depression” and documenting it for listeners in such a way testifies not only to his artistry but his courage as well.
The Minneapolis based songwriter and performer demonstrates his grounding in film scores and ambient music with the opener “Atonement”. Wafting synthesizer accompaniment sets the initial stage for the track and unobtrusive drumming soon comes in to lay down a solid tempo for everything that follows. The lyrics underscore the personal nature of the track and come across with a strong hip hop slant, though Aquarius grapples with themes far outside the purview of mainstream rap. He shows off excellent vocal chops, however, when he opts for full fledged soul-style singing near the song’s conclusion.
“Call You Home” foregoes the synthesizer accompaniment heard in the opener in favor of piano but maintains close to the same tempo. The piano provides an important melodic counterpoint for Aquarius’ vocals interspersed with passages where he once again reveals his vocal range. “In the Cave” returns listeners to more electronic oriented territory and has foreboding atmospherics that are never overwrought. They do give the song a dramatic edge, however, it might have otherwise lacked and his vocals are empathic in a way we don’t experience with the aforementioned tracks.
Acoustic guitar courtesy of guest Austin Ellis makes its first appearance on the album with the track “I Am Your Queen” and it blends well with another impassioned hip hop vocal from Aquarius. He mixes those passages with outright singing once more and the blend helps establish this track as one of the most effective moments on the album. The romping “The Music that Moves Through Us” has an energetic piano riff lifting listeners upward from the outset and Aquarius matches its inspiration with a life-affirming vocal of his own. His consistent balance between varying vocal deliveries is one of the many highlights included The Night Sea Journey and it reaches a peak with this performance.
“What I’m Made For” has one of the strongest grooves present on the album and makes for an excellent finale. It is a statement of purpose, a self-reminder for Aquarius to continue pursuing his dreams rather than allowing himself to become mired in despair, but anyone who has traveled similar roads will relate to his message. Few hip hop albums possess such across the board ambition while nonetheless remaining tethered to the realities and struggles of everyday life. Aquarius, Steve M. Ernenwein, whatever you want to call him, is a major artist growing with each new release.