As a graphic artist under the moniker ISO50, Scott Hansen creates prints that are known for their sense of unity and minimalist design, and for their warmth and the nostalgic feelings they evoke. Since the results are often dazzling, you can’t fault the guy for producing music of a similar ilk. But Dive, Hansen’s third album as the musician Tycho (and his first with Ghostly International), is more than just a soundtrack to Hansen’s own graphic art. Deceptive in its simplicity, Hansen took his time putting Dive together; tracks like “Daydream”, “Adrift”, and “Coastal Brake” were released over the past few years as singles and have been in circulation in his live performances for some time. The electronic tracks that make up Dive don’t necessarily demand patience, but they will reward it.
On his website, Hansen writes that his design work is motivated by a “search for efficiency”. It’s also the general roadmap for Dive, where there’s no wasted movement: Notes have a way of bubbling up, hanging in the air, and evaporating not a second late; the percussion is crisp; the bass lines are smooth. The instruments rarely clamor for attention, and instead, Hansen has a gift for using instruments to set each other up. On opening track “A Walk”, the synths appear to inhale for a moment just before a bassline saunters in. Synth-bass and bass guitar seem to slowly pull the curtain back on “Ascension” to reveal an acoustic guitar melody. Hansen doesn’t drown any of the tracks in synths, which allows an acoustic guitar to be the focus of some of Dive‘s most affecting moments, like the simple strumming that concludes “Elegy” or the swift finger-picking on “Melanine”. Add in scrupulous production work and these are songs that are easy to fall into and inhabit.
You can trust Spotify on this one: The chillwave comparisons aren’t far-fetched. Dive shares with someone like Tory y Moi an old school aesthetic, but the dreaminess and warmth in Washed Out’s recordings make it the closer kin. (Washed Out’s track “Soft” is a natural bridge to a song like “Hours” on Dive.) Hansen’s music, of course, is different in that it’s only instrumental. But when we do hear what sounds like voices — the breathy gasps on “Ascension” and “Epigram”, and especially the soaring female voice that opens “Dive” — they really stick. Add a vocal sample to the propulsive conclusion of “Coastal Brake” (the only time really when Dive is set at full-throttle), and you’ve got a dancefloor hit on your hands.
Hansen has said that Dive was intended to capture the feeling of escaping to some better future. Yet these aren’t tracks of unabashed joy. Instead, the album’s various moods vary only incrementally — the biggest leap being the unnerving “Ascension” to the brighter-sounding “Dive” and “Coastal Brake” — and the tracks all seem to care more about taking comfort in solitude. But the music remains consistently accessible (unlike recordings by Hansen’s self-professed influences Ulrich Schnauss and Boards of Canada), and that should help Dive endure. It’s a comedown album for the chillwave crowd and an audiophile’s dream. It’s the album you play when it’s finally safe to use approved portable electronics, when your eyes are glued to the plane window, peering down to someone or some place you already miss. It’s all these things and one of the best electronic releases of 2011.