Monday, April 21, 2014

Album Review: Tycho: Awake

Tycho:  Awake
Label:  Ghostly International
Released:  March 18, 2014

6/10

Tycho is to Boards of Canada what Coldplay is to Radiohead.  After the latter band pioneered an appealing sound, then defiantly veered into "difficult" territory, the former band emerged to fill the new gap - shamelessly emulating the latter band's original pop sensibilities.  This isn't a total indictment however.  Why did Boards of Canada have to alienate fans by following up the infectious Super 8 trip-hop of their classic 1998 album Music Has the Right to Children with that onerous collection of nightmare vignettes Geogaddi in 2002?  Enter a host of unapologetic imitators like Tycho, with albums like 2006's Past is Prologue, giving hungry fans a generous helping of that classic Boards of Canada sound.

Tycho is the alias of San Francisco audiovisual artist Scott Hansen.  As Tycho, Hansen creates instrumental electronic soundscapes as impeccably as he does graphic art (design alias ISO50).  All washed out pastels, hazy landscapes, abstract nostalgia, and an ethereal sun baked atmosphere. After the aforementioned pastiche of Past is Prologue, Tycho released the much improved Dive in 2011 (on Ghostly International, a Stateside analogue to UK's Warp Records).  Dive brought more focus and definition to Tycho's fuzzy Instagram aesthetic. That trajectory continues on this year's Awake.          

On the appropriately titled long player, Awake, Tycho breaths new vitality into his sound by integrating live session players into the project.  Tycho now sounds more natural and organic - like an actual band rather than a solo bedroom project.  Bass lines are beefy, drums snap vigorously, guitars shimmer, and ear-worm melodies ebb and flow vividly.  Album openers "Awake" and "Montana" ride elastic bass grooves reminiscent of a funkier Cure, while "L" and "See" incorporate straight-forward 4/4 kicks that beg for extended deep house edits suited for poolside sunset deejay sessions.

Toward the end of the album, "Apogee" and "Spectre" expand Tycho's audio dynamic by merging crunchy breakbeats with spiraling synth arpeggios, before fading out gently with the ambient wash of "Plains."  Whereas previous albums buckled under lengthy run times, Awake runs a merciful 37 minutes - staying engaging throughout while demanding repeat play.  Though Tycho isn't breaking any barriers with Awake, he's definitely going in the right direction and forging his own identity.  Fortunately, even studious mimics can break the gravitational pull of their biggest influences and blast off into uncharted space.

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