Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tycho - Epoch Review

Controversy typically surrounds those who dare. Musicians whose careers exist by maintaining tried and true rituals tend to coast under the radar, for their music fails to take a stance. There's a plethora of artists adhering to this risk aversion in today's music alone. As a critic, those who merely replicate formulas tend to drift out of my peripheral, but there's one peculiar case that stands out amongst the rest. Scott Hansen, better known as Tycho, has always played it safe. But rather than fade into the shadows, or live there with his loyal following, Tycho, by no doing of his own, draws in countless critics who lambast him for taking an aesthetic and running with it. Now I don't necessarily disagree with this notion, I just find it odd Hansen gets singled out. With his washed out brand of Downtempo that blends pastoral landscapes with spacious percussion and synths, Tycho, who also wraps his packages in tranquil, tidy imagery, acts as the perfect conductor for naysayers to shake their fist at. Epoch could've been his statement album, a work that proved the doubters wrong. Instead, Tycho rests on his laurels, content with living in his content world. It's not as empty and prosaic as Awake, but Epoch still fails to feel necessary.

After struggling to gain much notoriety, Tycho emerged with 2011's Dive, an album decisively implanted in the epicenter of modern day Downtempo music. Inspired by the nostalgia of Boards Of Canada and the progressive melodies of Ulrich Schnauss, Dive quickly became everyone's favorite study music, appearing everywhere, from recommendations on Youtube to playlists on Pandora. He amassed a loyal following, one that relished in the chillout mentality of the sunburnt hippy era, while also being poked fun at for creating benign electronic music that quivered at the sight of peril. While Dive had no means of evolution, the album felt necessary, leaping into a curated aesthetic, swimming around its content, and drinking it all up. Before Tycho had a chance to prove himself, listeners already began writing him and his shtick off. Unfortunately, 2014's Awake did nothing but confirm their bias. Hansen seemed unmoved, comfortable with his new crowd. And after a slew of singles building momentum, Epoch seeps even further into that safe zone. It's not as musically dry and forgiving as Awake, but Epoch will do little to sway the predominate opinion.

Might be ludicrous to say, but Epoch actually sports a fair amount of diversity. At the very least in comparison to Awake's narrow-minded outlook. This doesn't start till 'Receiver' woozily falls into place, using the entirety of its four-minute run to pace itself, rather than wear thin after Tycho's percussion exhausts itself once again. In fact, the only drums present here feel like a shoe-in, the least important facet of this atmospheric track. Lead single 'Division' promptly surrounds all the intangibles with a soft, almost Post-Punk-esque guitar riff, which takes a typical Tycho track and smears a different vision atop it. After that 'Source' takes inspiration from The xx's, using their minimalistic usage of space before adding uncoordinated percussion loops, something the rest of Epoch doesn't dive into. Finally, 'Local' wallows in that acid-drenched bath Tycho usually only dips his feet in, causing a swelling orchestration of sound to rise above the rather mundane bulk of Epoch. Now for Tycho fans, rest assured, this diversity is limited to his style, and naysayers, understand that the range is limited to Hansen's own methodology. Everything on Epoch is relative.

While roughly half of Epoch can attest to having an identity, it's only because the other half sulks back into Tycho's natural habitat. The three-song opening of 'Glider,' 'Horizon,' and 'Slack' is about as stereotypical as one can hope to get, with regurgitated drum patterns and a whitewash of that lo-fi analog fuzz Tycho probably has programmed to preset one for added effect. If you wanna pick at hairs, tracks like 'Horizon' or 'Epoch' land closer to dance-floor grooves than their brethren, which lie content on the grass baking in the sun. These two, and possibly also 'Rings,' sound like a Caribou cut had the personality, charm, and oscillations been torn apart. It's on songs like these that you long for the Dive days, where gentle vocal samples chirped in the background, like on that album's title track. Epoch severely lacks flair, with no human element to associate with the feelings Tycho clearly wants to emit. Unfortunately, Epoch works in the same way as Awake; by the books. Maybe that's how he wants it, considering the music is perfect for those waning days of the semester where one writes their essay on the pitch.

However, while the bulk of Epoch travels the same road as its predecessors, the final two tracks aim to reflect on the completed journey rather than continue onwards. 'Continuum' and 'Field' are interesting tracks, almost entirely lacking in the percussion department, but they suffer from reduced time lengths and, because of that, structural errors. Tycho's style yearns for the three to four-minute mark, with similar patterns and soundscapes only being accomplished thanks to the extended duration. However, with those privileges revoked, Tycho seems lost, pointlessly meandering on the final two tracks until the album uncomfortably ends. The idea to succinctly review the trip is sound, but the past five years of fine-tuning an incredibly hampered down anatomy causes 'Continuum' and 'Field' to feel solitary, and not for reasons that add to the aura. Still, flaws aside, Epoch is surely better than Tycho's last affair, an album which felt, essentially, worthless. He's taken steps, albeit small ones, to progress his bromide stance, rearranging slightly, but not enough to step out of the box. However, for the fall semester, and the needed repose students are urged to experience, Epoch, like every Tycho project, feels right at home.

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