For nearly a decade, Tycho has been known as the musical alias of Scott Hansen, but with the release of Awake – his second LP for Ghostly International – the solo project has evolved into a three-piece band. Reaching an entire new realm of sonic possibilities this time out, Awake is situated in the present, reaching Hansen’s vision of Tycho like never before. “This is, in many ways, the first true Tycho record.”
Following 2011’s Dive LP, the San Francisco, California based designer toured extensively, accompanied by a full band on stage, his sound coalesced into a percussive, organic whole. Zac Brown (guitars, bass) continued to join Scott on the road, but it was the particular addition of Rory O’Connor’s live drumming that ultimately sent Hansen back to the studio with a more precise vision for what the future of what Tycho could be. “After the tour, I decided that I wanted to capture the more energetic, driven sound of the live show on the next album,” Hansen recalls. Bringing musicians into Tycho’s creative process was a step towards expanding his own songwriting and advancing the project beyond its current incarnation.
In a cabin near Lake Tahoe last winter, Hansen and Brown began fleshing out the structure of the new record, but it wasn’t until they set up shop in the hills of Santa Cruz with O’Connor that it all fell into place. “It crystallized the vision of how the drums would come to the forefront on this record,” says Hansen. The sound was much more stripped-down and concise with live instruments coming to the forefront. Perhaps it was leading up to this all along, songs like “Montana” and “Awake” perfectly exemplify Tycho’s new, amped up, sound – unique to the group effort poured into the songs on the new record – while “See” and “Dye” echo ideas from previous works but with a clear with a view to the future. Working with Count Eldridge, who also engineered Dive, the team could fixate on the pulses that Tycho might have previously layered under synthesizers and exhume them with distinct bass and guitar patterns. Together they bridge an ethereal middle ground between old memories and new experiences, “While I grew up in California, I spent a lot of time as a kid in places like Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Montana,” says Hansen, ”I got back in touch with those areas over the past few years and they inspired me a great deal.” Hansen went on to build those images into the foundation behind the artwork for Awake, “I created the cover art to be a symbol, or a flag, to represent this fictional region comprised of idealized elements of all these western states.”
Also known for his design work as ISO50, Hansen’s visual and sonic efforts have dovetailed throughout the course of his career. “This is the first time in my life I’ve dropped everything to focus on one artistic pursuit,” notes Hansen. Previous Tycho releases came to fruition from Hansen’s delicate solo approach to constructing a song, tweaking each peak and valley, but ‘Awake’ is three like-minded people coming together where music becomes the sole purpose and true expression becomes the result.
Gardens & Villa
The crystalline, aha moment, if you can picture it, comes after a month of dogged recording in a converted warehouse in the middle of the bleak Midwest winter — foreign and dissociative terrain for Gardens & Villa, whose members are more accustomed to the warm breezes and surf of their Santa Barbara, California, home. The recording situation itself couldn't have been more ideal for unbridled creativity, as G&V was locked away with acclaimed producer Tim Goldsworthy (Cut Copy, DFA Records, Hercules & Love Affair) and was given full access to gear-nerdery like Sly Stone’s custom-built Flickinger recording console (used throughout There’s a Riot Goin’ On). However, the band had only left the studio space five times during the month, lost in a black hole of music-making. As their time with Goldsworthy drew to a close, with deadlines looming and personal woes creeping in, the band found themselves anxious, stressed out, sad. They needed a natural remedy -- an escape into the wilds of Michigan.
Members Adam Rasmussen, Chris Lynch, Dusty Ineman, Levi Hayden and Shane McKillop traversed across the winding roads and frigid tundra of Benton Harbor, MI, stopping only when they found its highest point. Their bodies worked with fervor as they summited an expanse of snow-covered sand dunes. The view at the top left them breathless. Here was the great wide world, in sharp contrast to their cloistered recording haze; with the ice crunching beneath their feet, they saw Lake Michigan, stretching across the distant horizon, simultaneously reminding them of home as well as the tyranny of that distance.
Dunes takes both album title and reinvigoration from this scene – but beneath the immediate lies a milieu of influences: random conversations with strangers, hundreds of VHS movies, British tea rituals, and explorations of consciousness and meditative focus. Opposing methodologies between band members make for wonderful tension in songs about the importance of isolation as well as connection, on appreciating the beauty of analog. The band’s vibrant rhythms, fluttering flute melodies, and pulsing synth lines now intersect with more nuance than ever before. In a single stroke on standout "Bullet Train," G&V gives an eerie artificiality to Lynch's flute and embues Rasmussen's synth bassline all the physicality of played PVC piping, flipping the physical and digital. At different points, the record recalls the jerky, blissful funk of Prince ("Bullet Train") and the cold-wave of Depeche Mode ("Colony Glen" and "Thunder Glove") in its outwards-facing dance jams, while piano-heavy tracks ("Chrysanthemums" and "Minnesota") feature complementary melodies that inspire introspection. With the expert assistance of Goldsworthy, Dunes is a record abundant with contrasts, that shares a clear and evocative vision of where Gardens & Villa’s members have traveled, what they’ve learned, and what lies ahead.