A lot has changed for the electronic producer, Tycho (aka Scott Hansen) since his stunningly inventive debut, Past Is Prologue. That album’s mix of chillwave synths and ambient electronics, all sprinkled with a smattering of glitchy IDM, saw Tycho assimilated into the nascent chillwave movement at the turn of the decade along with artists like M83, Neon Indian, and Toro y Moi. That continued with the more downbeat, Dive before Tycho broadened his sound on the more dream pop-influenced Awake and most recent album Epoch which saw him incorporate much more of his distinctive, clean guitar sound.
On new album Weather, Tycho doesn’t diverge hugely from the core sound he grew into on Awake or Epoch. The meticulous, layered production and the ear for a complimentary, unassuming melody are both present but with one major difference. For the first time, Tycho has written the album with vocals in mind, bringing in Hannah Cottrell (aka Saint Sinner) to lend her voice on the majority of the tracks. As a result, the album is a much more focussed and structured affair that finds Tycho producing more conventionally structured dream-pop songs.
Opener “Easy” epitomizes everything that’s so fresh and innovative about Tycho’s sound. From the sunshine keyboard riff to the wavy synths to the funky bass line, Tycho succeeds in imbuing everything in a warm, laid back groove. With acoustic guitar lines mingling with bright, winding synths and wordless vocals, the track flows seamlessly into the next song, “Pink and Blue”. Just as Tycho intended, “Easy” feels like the perfect bridge between his previous work and this album, as if he’s come to the end of one cycle and starting another.
That becomes immediately evident on “Pink & Blue” where analog synths are joined by Cottrell’s elegant, dream pop vocals. Her voice slowly drifts into focus before soaring to a melodious peak, buffeted by surges of synths and crisscrossing layers of percussion. It’s the kind of chart-friendly chorus that can’t fail to get the feet moving and the heart pumping and is one of the tracks with real crossover appeal.
On “Japan”, Tycho erects a polished framework to accentuate the understated, airy vocals from Cottrell. Over a trembling bassline, floaty guitar lines and light percussion, Tycho gives her voice enough weight to majestically sweep over the surface of the music like a low lying cloud over a calm lake.
There are shades of the Avalanches on sample-heavy “Into the Woods”, a track much more reminiscent of Tycho’s earlier work. Using snippets of vocals to add a little shade and color, Tycho weaves in those instantly recognizable clean guitar lines in between echoing, gleaming synths and cool, ambient electronics.
The more reflective, “Skate” is one of the most affecting songs on the album. It’s one occasion where Tycho wisely holds everything back, instead layering entwining harmonious guitar lines to create a delicate, minimalistic backing for Cottrell’s wonderfully rich vocals. “For How Long” finds Tycho taking a welcome detour as he grafts the more polished electronics to a dubby bassline.
“No Stress” is another song that you can imagine troubling the charts. Over warm, hazy synths, Cottrell’s breathy pop vocals turn the track into something close to a full-on Summer anthem. While by no means profound, the song’s central message that there’s no point in getting obsessed by the things you cannot change, is the perfect, easy-going message that resonates during long, sunshine-filled days.
Album closer “Weather” ties the whole album together as Tycho knits together twinkling keyboard lines and oscillating synths that trip and skip over a steady beat. Each component is intuitively blended to create a calming soundscape that gently drifts away like a half-remembered image from a dream.
In many respects Weather is a brave album for Tycho to make. He could be forgiven for just continuing in the same vein as Awake and Epoch, producing affecting, downbeat instrumentals. However, he has chosen a much more collaborative approach in bringing in Cottrell in and making her the focus of the songs. Consequently, he shows he can incorporate all of his signature elements into a traditional pop song structure without having to compromise the core, distinctive elements that make him such an innovative and intriguing artist.