Release Date: March 18th, 2014 (Ghostly International)
Buzz Factor: 3/5
Ambient artist Tycho reemerges after the success of his 2011 release, Dive. The three year hiatus gave Tycho the opportunity to refine the ever present downtempo sound that has dominated KEXP airwaves. After hearing fellow chillwave artist Bonobo reinvent the sound of electro indie with the 2013 release of The North Borders, I was expecting similar artists to do the same. In an era where access to an Apple computer and rhythm machine is within arm’s reach, Tycho failed to revamp himself in the ambient scene.
The release of Awake is a reiteration of the sound created in Dive: a beautiful lullaby that transports the listener to a mythical place protected from clichéd Top 40 electronics. However, the album fails to bring a fresh approach to a genre that has produced some of the most underrated instrumentals, such as Thievery Corporation’s “A Gentle Dissolve.” While many artists attempt to reinvent themselves as their careers progress, Tycho plays it safe and has produced an almost identical sound that makes the listener question what should be an organic progression of his musical career.
Nonetheless, Awake is still a stunning album with hidden gems. Among them is the opening and title track “Awake.” One of the heavier songs on the album, it is one that takes an unexpected turn midway through, transporting the listener to musical nirvana. Its subtle use of drum & bass really tendencies reiterate Tycho’s mastering of the almost trance like ambiance.
“L” is an alluring song that possesses the qualities of 80’s synth-pop. Its atmospheric breakdowns reiterate the easy listening effect that Tycho emphasizes in his music. No fuzziness or unnecessarily harsh, modern EDM influences. It’s a cohesive collection of instruments that together forms an organic sound unique to Tycho.
The standout song on Awake is “Spectre.” The sound, while not a replica, features a drum beat and subtle use of an electric guitar that’s reminiscent of “Sunset” by The xx. It is evident that “Spectre” doesn’t form a cohesive sound with the rest of the album. Its heavier sound is a far cry from the celestial lullabies that mold the rest of the album. It would be interesting to see Tycho develop this sound more on future albums, as it showcases a diverse sound in a relatively predictable genre.
While Awake is far from being a standout album for chillwave in 2014, it is a celestial listen that is the perfect soundtrack for the spring weather that Mother Nature teases us with. Its cosmic acoustics are what inevitably save this album from being ignorable. Although Tycho is not able to renovate his sound, he maintains his presence in the ambient genre where imitators struggle.