Is chillwave a dead genre? That’s something that I had to ask myself before sitting down to listen to athmospheric electronic musician Tycho’s new album. See, his last record, Dive, was a journey into heavy synths and hazy beats. It was a popular sound in 2011, with artists such as Washed Out and Toro y Moi really hitting critical indie-darling mass.
However, both of those artists have gone on to make new music that’s leagues different than their past efforts. Washed Out’s Paracosm strikes out into a more psychedelic pop realm than the soft drone of Within and Without, and Toro y Moi’s gone full-on funk with his Les Sins project and collaboration with the guys from Chromeo. That leaves Tycho, who hasn’t abandoned his old formula for something wildly different. Instead, he’s altered his recipe to produce a much more engaging sound.
The key difference between this album and Dive is in how much less reverb/wavy noise is included on the album. There was just too much hazy synth before. It was too prominent. It obscured the other layers of the songs and made them all sound the same (or at least very similar).
I think that was a good thing for Tycho’s popularity, though. Dive‘s airy, melodic soundscapes drifted over drum machines in a fog of synthesized arpeggios in a way that was really unmistakable when compared to other artists in the same genre. Those arpeggios and their accompanying heavy echoes are still present on Awake, but they’re not drowning out the rest of the music. Dive was an order of french fries swimming in ketchup. Awake is sweet potato truffle fries with a side of curry ketchup and garlic aoli.
So would fans of Dive and Tycho’s last efforts enjoy this? The short answer is yes. If you liked those last records, this is definitely more of the same, but with the guitar riffs and percussion brought to the forefront. I’d even go so far as recommending this to fans of Boards of Canada or other post-rock bands, mainly because Tycho doesn’t sound anything like Mogwai or Sigur Ros or The Album Leaf or even Explosions in the Sky. On Awake Tycho does, however, do an excellent job of crafting emotional music by echoing typical rock song structures off of sun-drenched synth backdrops.
My favorite moments are those when Tycho seems to break out of the almost sleepy sunset haze into a more lively rhythm. “See,” for instance, has these wonderfully upbeat, energetic buildups that kind of feel like the type of thing you’d expect in EDM except without the high hats or even a particularly explosive drop. It’s progressive. That’s as much of a description of how his music is layered as it is an electronic music genre. “Montana” is my personal favorite cut off the album. It’s uplifting, but more instrumental than electronic.
There’s definitely the feeling on Awake that Tycho tried to break out the percussion specifically. The almost Com Truise-esque “Apogee” introduces break beats and bass in a song that’s, well, danceable. It’s a definite head bobber. That’s not necessarily something I would’ve called Dive, as much as I liked to listen to it. These new tracks will be great live.
On the whole, this is Tycho’s best effort yet. You won’t be bored or lulled to sleep by an endless haze of synth and reverb. The drums are lively, the melodies are in focus and memorable…I love it.
Awake goes on sale March 18th, but you can stream the whole thing off Soundcloud right now.
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