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White Noise: Tycho – Dive

Monday, 24 October 2011

Tycho – Dive

A Walk



It’s been a long time since Scott Hansen’s last LP as Tycho, 2006’s Past Is Prologue. It was also a criminally overlooked release, not found on any review sites at the time (so I was like, totally there first), but the point here is that it’s an album I hold quite dear. For me Past Is Prologue is one of those records that is by no means perfect but keeps you coming back year after year, because nothing else feels quite like it. His music courts subtle emotions at a restrained distance, allowing the listener to draw associations for themselves; and Dive is once more a soundtrack that you can set to anything you choose, a product that is only complete in the listening by the subjective associations that it draws. Perhaps this is true of all music, but it strikes me as particularly true of these lush ambient compositions.

With Dive Tycho moves further away from the Boards of Canada comparisons that (slightly unfairly) haunted his debut, crafting a smooth and propulsive journey that is utterly his own. He has created a very beautiful and distinctive sound for himself and across this LP he mines it thoroughly, generally layering a shifting ambient wash with hip-hop or IDM beats and woozy pitchshifting synth melodies. This is a very organic sound, and as indicated by the title it reflects water in a lot of ways; actual samples, feelings of submersion and emergence, and eerily on-point aural calls to the feel of the sun on your skin, the undulating water and the crimson sky at sunset. Forgive me for being over-poetic, but this is poetic music, and it conjures very strong imagery. Added to this, his evocative titles give you a jumping off point to lose yourself in these tunes, as with the lullaby-esque Daydream’s ability to sweep you away.

Most of the tracks on offer here are stunning in their own right. Opener A Walk is one of my favourites, building on beautifully placid synths, immersing the listen in the half-breath samples and woozy beats, finally breaking through the surface with guitars and synths moulded fluidly. It highlights another particular success of Tycho’s, the complete fluency between acoustic and electronic instrumentation, no mean feat, which is present across the board on this album. Second cut Hours is a perfect example of everything that Tycho does best; hard-hitting beats, lush and detailed synths and that all-important hazy sheen that makes his tracks just so intoxicating.

It’s this very sheen that prompted a friend of mine to suggest that these tracks sound a little Easy Listening, but I think that could hardly be further from the truth. For me, this polished veneer is exactly what makes these songs sound unique; this album is full of cerebral tunes that engage curious corners of your mind, and a smoothing is necessary to create a sort of sunny distance that allows these compositions to completely hypnotise the listener. The precisely oriented sounds slip in and out of your consciousness; Ambient in Eno’s very definition of the sense (beats not withstanding). Yet still if you’re not in it for such an intense listen, this LP proves relaxing but gorgeously nuanced background music, and the sharp beats stop it from ever getting too boring or anaesthetized.

But if you do want to listen carefully to these songs, there’s so much to discover from both a technical and an emotional standpoint. The subtle chord changes, textured percussion and intricately layered synths will always give the interested listener more than enough to chew on. Take title track Dive; there is the ever-shifting percussion, the rushing aquatic effect heard just once before the 4-minute mark, the treated pitchshifting towards the end – if you enjoy taking the music you listen to apart it’s fascinating to work out how Tycho weaves these sounds together so deftly.

As the album progresses, the tone shifts somewhat. After the pacey postpunk bassline and (appropriately) soaring synths of the lovely Ascension, the following tracks take a darker tack. It’s a good move, too, because if it weren’t for this emotional redirection it could all come off as a little one-note. Melanine combines a brooding guitar melody with spacey synths in a near-beatless space to great effect, and follow-up Adrift is a definite album highlight; evoking its title adeptly with a lilting beat and swirling synthlines that part, cloud-like, to reveal a gorgeous guitar melody. The final tracks form a pretty one-two closer; Epigram is a short but sweet instrumental and the stunning Elegy is a slow-burn that combines all of Tycho’s best sounds with an achingly longing guitar refrain.

Although I really adore Tycho’s sound and admire his unique take on Ambient, that's not to say I don't have any gripes with Dive. Firstly there is the fact that most of these tracks have appeared in various forms in Tycho’s smaller releases over the last few years, and while most people won’t have known this and it shouldn’t really affect how the LP is judged, it’s still a little disappointing to not get a whole lot of new material. On the plus side, some of the older stuff has been reworked or remastered well, especially the great percussive outro added to Daydream which takes the track from a pretty interlude to an involving journey. The other issue is that, for a hardened Electronic music fan, there isn’t a great deal of range on offer here. Similar sounds are used again and again, and while this isn’t unusual in Ambient fields, Dive is just as much an instrumental hip hop album and so in some respect is suffers for a lack of variety. I can’t help but sometimes feel that the music could occasionally move beyond its allocated boundaries in terms of the sounds used. This won’t be a big problem for those, like me, who are so in love with Tycho’s hypnotic sound that they can just sink into it, but for those looking for a challenging or diverse listen this isn’t a particularly bountiful offering.

Minor problems aside, Dive deserves all the acclaim that its predecessor never received, and I hope it will help to put Hansen’s name more concretely on the map. After all, this is a consistently masterful collection of hypnotic and relaxing tracks of uncommon beauty, and it deserves to be heard.


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