For more than eight years, Scott Hansen has been creating something truly different. Scott’s project, Tycho, had its first release in 2011. Titled Dive, the album garnered a lot of attention and interest. With soundscapes akin to Boards of Canada, Tycho grabbed the idea of ambient chill-wave and took it to livelier heights. The vibrant combination of soft drum-machine beats and light, wobbly synth made it tough not to put his music on repeat. It’s easy listening when you want it but has enough content to really be dissected to reveal the aptitude Scott has for writing. The additions of organic elements, like clips of people talking, lent a human element to the primarily mechanized backdrop. There’s something to be said about the way he can take a short idea, typically revealed in the intro, and usher in texture after texture until the idea has completely bloomed. Putting together these parts, Tycho creates conversational feeling pieces of music. These pieces are an amalgamation of so many timbres, yet the topic or theme never gets lost.
A nostalgic excitement surrounds his work, bringing the listener in and out of melancholy yet never withholding a sense of effervescence. The basis of much of his music is of course electronic. Though, as the band has gone through a transformation since Tycho’s brand of downtempo techno debuted in 2011, so too has the music morphed. The addition of Zac Brown on guitar and Rory O’Connor on drums gave Tycho’s 2014 album Awake a bit more of a live band feel. The ethereal, underwater synths started acting as complimentary pieces to the more dynamic drumbeats and subtle, yet potent guitar leads. The band continued down this organic path on their third album, Epoch. Tycho started really appreciating the value of the beats that underlie Hansen’s soundscapes. Epoch felt like a bit of a settling point for Tycho for some. After all, it seemed like the band had found a sweet spot in their sound.
As with any artist, settling isn’t really a thing. While Tycho doesn’t reinvent their sound, the band does continue their growth with veracity. To be sure, the impression of techno music on Tycho’s music is still significant in the band’s new album, Weather. And in fact, the core of this album feels similar to other Tycho albums. The songs are all self-contained and well composed. You could loop any song and find some new sound peeking out behind O’Connor’s breakbeats. The first piece, “Easy” is a soft, melodic mixture of vintage synthesizers talking overtop of a sprightly beat. An elusive dream-pop-esque vocalist soars above the atmospheric instrumental. Some classical guitar is introduced later, and the song rolls along with ease- hence its name!
One huge difference in Weather is the inclusion of a vocalist. Hannah Cottrell, known as Saint Sinner, is in the majority of the album, with full fledged vocals to compliment Tycho’s characteristically beautiful instrumentals. Saint Sinner’s whispery vocals on “Pink and Blue” give the song a whole new dimension. Her lyrics charge the song with feelings of self-realization, love, and empowerment. The presence of the vocals does tend to tame the band down a bit, like in “Japan”, where the instrumental backing is less interesting than the vocals. This isn’t to say the instrumental is not intriguing- it is still characteristic Tycho. The band is just good at laying back and letting the vocals and lyrics take the spotlight. There is kudos in line for the production here too. While the vocals are more in the real of dream-pop, they are not at all mixed into the background like a lot of vocals are in that genre. Instead, since Tycho’s music is so dreamy to begin with, the vocals fit right in as a puzzle piece.
The fifth song “Skate” opens like an alternative song with a couple palm muted guitars calling and responding out of each ear. Saint Sinner’s soft vocals take on a very tight, R&B characteristic. She gracefully navigates the notes around the two backing guitars. The song is so vulnerable, yet so well executed. The composition never builds to a peak and keeps an event dynamic throughout with small builds and drops in the vocals and their harmonies to keep the song moving well. It’s an achievement to be able to pull off something so subtle and powerful without using the devices of modern production. Especially for a Tycho song, this one is very barren but in the best way.
As a listener, if you were looking for more of the older sound of Tycho, don’t fret. “Into the Woods” is true evidence that the band has not lost any of their prowess for writing well composed and very dynamic instrumental pieces. The titular track “Weather” offers similar vibes and even feels like a continuation of some of the ideas Tycho played around with in past albums. Thick bass chords mix with heavy synth at the low end, and the synths build into an anthemic ending with cymbals crashing in the background. A great ending to a trip of an album.
With the release of this new album, Tycho will be going on tour. Check out their website for more information on where and when to see the band live! Weather is streaming now so go check it out.