Sunday, 16 March 2014

Tycho - Awake


It takes some guts to speak of a latest release as '...the very first true record' from said artist. Aside from leaving us to ponder over whether or not we're meant to discard the previous material - or simply see this as some musical reboot - there's no denying that from out all such apprehension, there remains at the very least some modest honesty. But then again Tycho has been well apt for intriguing his listener base in truthfulness, even if Scott Hansen's musical endeavors - much unlike his design ventures as ISO50 - can come across as fluffing too many of its words when it comes to ambition. Hansen's warm, analogous easing of electronics are more than capable of reminiscing Boards of Canada's decade-old sheen of warming, sonic material and it's perhaps this cloak that has unfortunately, like so many downtempo producers, left Tycho merely at the sidelines when it comes to finding something rich in aesthetic, but capable more-so in stand-out identity. So what to do if you want to break away from the mantra and stand on your own pedestal as opposed to merely looking up in awe of another? Coming to Awake, it's clear the Califronian musician and producer means to have his music felt as much it is heard - a sign that Hansen's interests now lie firmly in imagination and initiation, as opposed to imitation.

It doesn't take long for us to experience it; the self-titled opener Awake completely removing Tycho (and his fans) from the former aroma of replicance and leaping forth with a similar analog glisten that is quick to instate Tycho now as this live-sounding, jam-happy delivery. Accompanied by Zac Brown & Rory O'Connor, it transforms the singular-if-perplexing electronics and - be it in the dripping strums of acoustics, the cavernous bass lines or the additional wash of synthesizer reverb - the sound is more successive in making its presence felt; melodies are now ironed out against what remains this dreamy stretch of electronics and guitars given a healthy-rather-than-lethal dose of reverb. This emergence of a raw, inflicting expression comes into full view with following track Montana via its early-morning, over-the-horizon peak of lead guitars, and while it still garners a comparison to many post-rock midflights, rather than leading up to any calculated crescendo or wall of accented strings, it instead simply coasts through - as much measured excess and efficiency as any ambient electronic recording. Because of this, Tycho achieves something altogether rewarding his past records had only alluded to: a sense of fulfillment.

From hereon, the album doesn't necessarily deviate or expand from what perimeters it lays out. And while I would have liked to have seen more of a challenge contested to the many other fields of electronic music, what it demonstrates in greatly refining its instrumentation to blend with such subtle, sonic persuasion, still leaves a mighty impression. L continues by also expanding on Hansen's delicate yet fortifying stance on production and clarity; the track's watery, serene state initially adding more colour to the track's wading bass guitars and more-so on its presence of groove in a composition still easily reclined in the midst of this toying, playful surrounding of analog synths and spacious guitar lines. But thanks to the instrumentation's upbeat contrast, the two sides nestle together well into this expansive voyage with which Hansen seems well adjusted to, but masterful at refining ever more to its tiniest of detail. See then finds all these components combine into one fruitful, colourful sprawl of sound: from the rhythmic melodies of guitars, to the coiling of synthesizers in the midst, right down to the nanometer-thick ushering of ambiance. 

There's a definitively journeyed vibe and interest being struck with here, yet even with the album's percussion giving it pace, the amount of space left for the latter elements to simply sit and stir does leave us sensually awe-struck enough that we may possibly not want to part from such a place. But not all Tycho's placements are particularly associated with the outside or even its opposite, the engrossing, cavernous interiors that crop up numerous times on previous track. Apogee, if not the most melodic or hardest-hitting sonically, finds its synthesizers taking on much more playful and sprying shapes than the necessity of colourful arpeggios that precede it. The pacing and rhythms too remind me of artists more inclined with sampling and similar production methods, and the sliced-like arrangements to the guitars and keys certainly keep me focused on the track, if not absolutely enthralled by the particular tones and patterns being presented. 

But Spectre shortly after flips the outcome once more - reintroducing melodic guitar lines that focus much more on the overdubbed, multi-layered, multi-tonal qualities rather than the progressive nature or mannerisms which have been the focus up to this point. Having said that, the break-downs and resurgence with which the guitars present, by no means relegates the song's content and fractional deviations to anything less than inviting for the listener. What is also inviting, but ultimately results in a quite cinematic display of engrossing tension and atmosphere, reveals itself in album closer Plains which for a three minute piece - and thus is the shortest of the eight tracks - ends up becoming the record's most dynamic and emotive delivery of the bunch. Starting with a gliding stream of guitar strums and subtle strums, it eventually leads into the centre-piece of the track which lies in the evaporative dispersion of the electronics into which we move away from the wilderness or caverns of the former, and ascend up towards this stratospheric-yet-care-free ease of ambient tones drifting from one side of the next. And the way the track fades off in this grainy, almost-glitchy fashion, seems to address interestingly the album's overarching serene, dreamy, yet coherent aesthetic being balanced (and at times outweighed) by its just-as-sought emphasis on its production and the more organic (more 'real') equivalents of instruments.

Dive, signaled a variation if not a total deviation from the formula; the sleeker focus on melody and organic instrumentation a definite plus in a field not entirely known for breaking new ground amid its slushy gradient of chillout formulae. With Awake, Tycho finds the confidence as well the proficiency to break away from such shackles of synthesizer-only fabrication to provide the soundtrack to some of the most visually-appealing, visually-imaginative stretches of scenery both in open and enclosed space alike. And while he may be cutting from the cloth of post-rock and ambient music here, it's Hansen's three-man, live delivery that defines the record's repeatability and reasons to strive to engage once more in such awe-inspiring scenery. While there's no covering up the drawbacks as to the record's stubborness to move away from the same fields of guitar tone or colourful synthesizer inclusion, what you'll find is that even with such smaller offerings as this eight-track record, Tycho more than makes up for it, emotively. At its richest or even reclined, Scott Hansen demonstrates a skill and a scrutiny to make such simple-structured guitar melodies and make them some of the most engrossing yet organic to date.
~Jordan Helm

7.8

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