An Enveloping Aural Massage
Tycho, the ambient music project of Scott Hansen, has been massaging our eardrums for the past decade. His debut album, Past Is Prologue, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, introduced the act to the instrumental music scene with its absorbingly dreamy, electroacoustic soundscapes. With the release of two subsequent LPs – Dive and Awake, respectively – Hansen’s sound began to slowly evolve (much like his music does). These works, while still fundamentally ambient in tone, captured a much richer blend of textures. Synthesizers, guitars and percussion harmoniously merged to establish gorgeously lush musical atmospheres. And while neither album really possessed much in the way of diversity, they both managed to attain a sound that was captivatingly unique, lulling their listeners into a nostalgic daze.
Tycho’s newest full-length offering, Epoch, which was released rather suddenly this past month, continues this trend. It effectively maintains the core musical elements of its spiritual predecessors, Dive and Awake. First and foremost, Epoch captures Tycho’s trademark sound through its blend of simple consonant melodies. The breathy synth swells are there as well, as are the reverb-laden guitar licks. Rhythmically, the album upholds Hansen’s emphasis on simplicity, avoiding jarring tempo changes and time signatures (aside from the septuple meters employed in “Slack,” “Division” and “Rings”).
At times, however, Epoch does appear to take risks, straying from the confines of Tycho’s characteristically minimalist sound – if ever so slightly. “Field” and “Local” are driven by meandering guitar chord progressions, a stark departure from the synthesized backdrops that define the majority of Tycho’s catalog. The latter piece even includes some atypically large intervallic leaps within the lead guitar line. While still highly consonant, these slight variations allow songs like “Local” to truly stand out from the rest of the album’s offerings, helping them ring as ‘catchy’ – a word rarely used to describe Tycho’s music.
With Epoch, Hansen also seems to emphasize dynamic shifts more so than he has in the past. Listeners are treated to a nice mix of up and downbeat songs, loud and soft moments. Relatively muted songs like “Receiver” and “Continuum” are starkly and effectively contrasted by Epoch’s more energetic offerings – e.g. “Division, “Rings” and the epic crescendo featured towards the end of the eponymous “Epoch.” And these exaggerated peaks and valleys are balanced incredibly well by Hansen, which leads to a listen that is nearly as smooth as both Dive and Awake. However, unlike those previous albums, Epoch manages to offer a slightly more varied collection of sounds and, in doing so, it is a much less singular listening experience. (This is still Tycho, of course, though, so no one should expect anything too rousing or adventurous.)
All things considered, Epoch is one of Hansen’s most impressive works to date. For those merely craving more of the same, it does not disappoint. “Glider,” “Epoch” and “Rings” all reiterate the wistfully minimalist electronica that we have come to expect from Tycho. Yet the project’s most recent endeavor also sees Hansen subtly experimenting with new textures and sounds. While Epoch may not necessarily offer a ‘better’ listening experience than either Dive or Awake, which were both exceptional albums in their own rights, it certainly offers a greater variety of sounds. And these musical elements are merely enhanced by Hansen’s spectacular production. With this in mind, any and all ambient-minded listeners should grab their best pair of headphones and prepare for a gratifying, deep-listening experience.