Critical Voices: Tycho, <i>Awake</i>

Critical Voices: Tycho, Awake

By:
03/27/2014

Imagine a stroll through a perfectly manicured garden, Versailles or Dumbarton Oaks, on a sun-soaked day. It is an experience––grass artfully cropped, Baroque nudes selected with precision. Turn that into music and you’ve got down-tempo DJ Tycho’s new album Awake.

Though still introspective, Awake departs from Tycho’s previously somber soundscapes in favor of something exactly that: awake and energetic. The album opens with reverb-laden beats in the eponymous “Awake.” If there’s a track to narrate awaking for an 8 a.m. class as the sunrise sneaks through your bedroom blinds, this is it.

Impressively, Awake was recorded with instruments rather than produced electronically, a first for Tycho. In many ways, this shift makes the album feel more authentic, more visceral, as it veers closer to the cymbal-clashing crescendos of post-rock greats like Do Make Say Think or Explosions in the Sky.

But Awake takes a break from creative curation in its third track, “L.” It opens disconcertingly off-pitch, and it takes a couple minutes for it to correct itself from whiny back to Awake’s thematic ebullience. For a 30-minute album that is best enjoyed without interruption, that’s a long time.

On the whole, Tycho creates a musical experience that is both contemplative and highly danceable. “Apogee,” for example, switches between busy breakbeats heavy with bass and synthy piano stabs, pitting two musical themes against each other. The presence of these two conflicting motifs can be frustrating, though. Should this be an album for a hipster-chic hotel bar during happy hour, or is this best left for the after-after party?

What’s more, like Versailles or Dumbarton Oaks, Awake feels a little too carefully curated. I can’t help but wonder whether I’m listening to little more than easily digestible IDM meant to be the banal motel prints of the trip-hop music scene. Perhaps that’s the problem of the sub-genre in general, but Tycho’s soundscapes strike me as repetitive—too easily enjoyed. It’s like I’m seeing the Versailles that’s the subject of consumerist hour-long tours, not the substantive Versailles of the history books.

Though it’s not quite something you can pin down, Awake hides behind this sort of facade of authenticity. A great hors d’oeuvre perhaps, but look elsewhere for the entrée.

 

Voice’s Choices: “Montana,” “Apogee”

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Sam Kleinman


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