In our recent interview with San Francisco electronic artist and graphic designer Scott Hansen (aka Tycho), he revealed some intriguing thoughts on his particular strand of electronic music. He says his refracted productions, made using the digital audio workstation software REAPER, are meant to be “retro-future, like what people in the ’70s thought 2020 was going to look like.”
That type of statement aligns well with Hansen’s other passion: graphic design. His work as ISO50 is austere and often resembles the command screen of a intergalactic space cruiser from a sci-fi film. His tunes provide the fuel to get him anywhere his imagination conjures up.
Such stargazing makes a whole galaxy of sense for an artist that performs under the name of a 16th century Danish astronomer. In that aforementioned interview, the Tycho mastermind called his bifurcated artistic life a “symbiosis where one thing allowed [him] to do another, and one thing was the impetus for another — in this weird, self-feeding, spiral.” (The former Sacramentan fashioned the cover artwork, layout, and design for his Balearic and IDM-indebted album, Dive.)
This is Tycho’s debut full-length for the mega-hot Ghostly International imprint. (Hansen previously self-released a full-length entitled Sunrise Projector, which was then reissued as Past Is Prologue on the now-defunct IDM label, Merck Records.) And Dive is exactly the ardent introduction to a broader audience that Hansen deserves.
His passion for warm analog synthesizers and old school audio editing oozes out of every nature-inspired composition. This is a wholly post-modern record, but the feelings behind the release are ensconced in the musty past of outdated appliances and ideas. Dive is a confluence of sounds and inspirations. The weightless mystery of space music, entrancing draw of ambient music, and pulse-pounding thrum of dance music keeps the tension throughout.
“A Walk” begins the record at the right gait, with a dream-y bell tone and a Boards of Canada-esque beat. A New Wave bass creeps in and out of the shadows as a ghostly cascade of voices knits the song together. Before long, “A Walk” morphs into a pretty hefty sprint. Standout singles, “Hours” and “Coastal Brake,” deftly conjure up distinct images of Northern California ocean life. You can even hear synths crash over the mix on “Hours.”
Hansen aims to make the seemingly commonplace nature all around us as foreign and transfixing as E.T. He succeeds on all fronts because there’s an intricacy to his songs. He’s not just recycling nostalgic tropes for appeal in 2011. He takes his time with each song element and lets the melody slowly enshroud the listener in a thick, Bay Area-worthy fog.
Similar to “Hours,” “Daydream” and “Dive” are visual pieces. The former takes on the skittering melancholia of Tycho’s earliest tunes and the latter is a heavenly vocal cut with Jianda Johnson. Instead of the drier productions heard on Sunrise Projector, Dive employs aquatic and climate-altering themes. A rare track such as “Adrift” may paint Dive as devoid of this life-giving melodic pulse, but the rest of the album’s midsection and back-half keeps in step with this through-line.
One of the best examples is the slow-building bass cut, “Ascension.” It’s a stentorian synth jam that opens up into a bucolic field during the middle-eight. An acoustic guitar and Native American flute do a wispy dance planet-side and then we’re flying back into space. Tycho makes damn sure to make his tracks move even when they seem like they’re just stargazing.
“Melanine” begins like a Sun Kil Moon folk track (also a San Francisco denizen). Life-giving morning light streams through your bedroom window in the form of gooey synth lines. It’s a nice track that tends to wander a bit, but it doesn’t distract too much from Dive‘s sturdy craftsmanship. Hansen always has a compass with him on his journey. “Epigram” brings back the beat with a double-exposed, nearly drill ‘n bass framework. Dive‘s closing cut, “Elegy,” sees Hansen returning to his celestial themes again. It’s a lovely acoustic meditation on what’s come before and a palette cleanser for albums to come.
Tycho is worth any self-respecting electronic fan’s time. Seek his music out and he’ll greet you with faded memories of past futures. There’s little pretension wafting over his analog craft and the melodic tokens he unearths are as iridescent as an oceanic sunset. Buckle in and blast off.