The instrumental music San Francisco’s Scott Hansen makes as Tycho splits the difference between post-rock’s melodic architecture and pop ambient’s immersive, uplifting environments. Hansen’s aims felt a little harder to grasp on the sprawling Dive, the 2011 predecessor of his fourth album as Tycho, Awake. The latter is a slickly constructed album that finds him streamlining both his setup and his aims — the sounds he uses and how he deploys them are more considered and purposeful.
Awake is focused on the dynamic between driving rhythms that wouldn’t be out of place in M83’s ’80s-worshipping work and the stargazing romanticism of Ulrich Schnauss. In all of these songs, electric bass and live drums are locked on cruise control as litanies of guitar and Minimoog lines peel off in divergent, kaleidoscopic patterns. Things never crystallize into narrative song structures, but Tycho never loses the plot, offering the listener a steady succession of thematically united vignettes. In contrast to both the tension-and-release tactics employed by the likes of Mogwai and the wintry narcolepsy of Kompakt’s Pop Ambient compilations, this succinct album — clocking in at just under 40 minutes — contents itself with being a seamless, vaguely melancholic reverie.
Awake humbly suggests itself as the soundtrack to a sunbaked road trip, capturing the inexplicable nostalgia you feel imagining a new life in a new town glimpsed from the highway. Transitions within and between individual tracks take place so smoothly they register mostly as changes in atmospheric pressure rather than plot points. So when the album concludes with the floating “Plains,” there’s a nagging sense that it has done so prematurely. Music often requires some acclimatization before it can be fully appreciated. In Tycho’s case, it’s returning to the real world that takes effort.