Tycho – Awake (ALBUM REVIEW)


Tycho-awakeTycho‘s music is watercolor made audible, an impressionist smattering of cool, comfortingly placid tones and hues. Part Boards of Canada and part indie soundtrack, the producer’s soothing brand of electronica turns myopia into majesty, blurring and softening half-remembered melodies from some distant, undefined source. Awake, Tycho (aka Scott Hansen)’s fourth full-length effort, delivers these dreamy hallmarks in spades, but listeners might notice an uncharacteristic alertness. Aptly named, the album finds Hansen leaving his drowsy comfort zone and cultivating an upbeat, danceable vibe.

A backward-looking work driven by nostalgic synthesizer licks, Tycho’s 2006 Past Is Prologue oozed with anachronistic appeal. Alternately wistful and bright, the album tip-toed over cloud canopies, courting rudderless ambient without shedding structure. Dive, his 2011 follow-up, returned to this nebulous territory, bringing more guitar into the fold. Furthering the relationship between classic instruments and electronics, Hansen toured with a live band in recent years, wowing dubstep-weary spectators across the globe. These performances inspired Awake, and the studio treatment of the full band dynamic ratchets up energy and synergy at every turn.

The title track opens the album, showcasing vibrating, surfer rock-esque electric guitar. It’s a rosy, measured introduction, worthy of its name. “Montana” follows, with pounding bass and lively snare boosting Tycho’s distinctive, analog-smitten voice. Zac Brown and Rory O’Connor, manning guitars and drums respectively, leap into action immediately. Though the two certainly provide the framework Tycho works within, behaving like thermometer glass housing amorphous mercury, they do not shrink from the spotlight. Like so many of the tracks on Awake, “Montana” swells and encourages movement.

“L” continues this trend, reaching a poppy, pixilated, dance-generating crescendo. The track is really Awake in miniature. Here, Hansen’s signature bleariness burns away and surrenders to an uptempo amalgam of shiny notes. The mingling of subdued strings and zipping snatches of synthesizer captures the essence of this album, the transition from a formless slumber to a sunlit state of awareness. If Tycho used to serve as your sedative, this song and its counterparts will convince you to find a new sleep-inducing pick. Exchange your pillow for a bathing suit or a tested pair of boogie shoes. Awake will oblige, allowing that morning romp to push on until midday, hours after Dive has lulled those playing catch-up.

This daytime groove, while hampered at times by brakes applied ever so lightly, truly carries and shapes Awake. Arguably the slowest song on the album, “Dye” briefly approaches the glacial tempo pervading previous Tycho releases before it takes off. Other songs like “See” and “Apogee” flirt with somber slowness as well, only to return audiences to an overlook beneath blue skies, a blooming landscape populated by R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People.”

A fantastic group effort, Awake begins a new chapter for Tycho, one fans of Explosions in the Sky and instrumental rock could certainly warm up to. Longtime Tycho followers certainly have something to debate, but they have something to bob their heads to as well.

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