- by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2019-07-12 Label: Mom + Pop
Tycho, the brainchild of Scott Hansen, has returned with another set of snuggly beauty after 2016's Grammy-nominated Epoch. While this set is mostly more of the same kind of excellent atmospheric electronica of previous albums, the addition of vocalist Hannah Cottrell creates some interesting new textures, although this sometimes comes at a cost of the older sounds getting pushed a little too far into the background.
Opener 'Easy' is by turns fuzzy and crisp, with some of the synths conveying a retro, Boards-of-Canada, 70s vibe while others sound modern and bright. Breathy vocalizations pass through like fresh breezes. There's even a flash of acoustic guitar at the end. It's Hansen at the top of his game, mixing the familiar with just the right amount of novelty to maximize impact. 'Pink & Blue' uses darker synths, but also ends up more like a pop song, thanks to Cottrell actually singing intelligible words. 'Japan' is a mellow, lounge-flavored tune, with Cottrell's breathy voice bringing to mind Inara George of The Bird and the Bee, although the similarity of song titles (I'm thinking particularly of their 2009 track 'Love Letter to Japan') could also be influencing my ear. 'Skate' is similar, but less compelling, like an engine out of gear, just spinning without going anywhere, like Zero 7 at their most languid.
'Into the Woods' is classic Tycho, like exploring the universe in your own personal spaceship, with sweet little synths leading the way like a cosmic tour guide. The percussion is a bit more varied and occasionally intense, and there is more acoustic guitar to be found, making it distinctive yet familiar. 'For How Long' is a hybrid, perhaps more than any song, effectively blending the traditional Tycho sound with the new approach. By doing this well, it provides some nice connective tissue.
'No Stress' is the song everyone needs to hear. As the title indicates, it's about relaxing and not being crushed by the weight of the world. The usual Tycho elements are here: deep synths, intricate percussion, and muted, echoing guitar. But again, having vocals completely changes the character of the music, making it far less abstract and far more organic and, I must grudgingly admit, approachable for listeners.
I have to applaud Hansen for taking a risk and trying something different here. The result of adding a voice to Tycho's already gorgeous sound is pretty successful, though not quite earth-shattering. As a bridge to a more mainstream-friendly place, it works. But any time a band changes up its sound, there's a chance it will alienate the old guard. As a long-time fan, I'm partial to the instrumental style, but I'm generally fine with the changes on offer here. I do think the primary issue is that leaning on the vocals too much may have weakened the overall compositional effort here and there. But it's still Hansen masterminding the affair, so it's solid stuff.