- Instrumental music and graphic design are more similar than you might think. Both use wordless mediums to convey meaning, and both require a particular finesse to get right. Scott Hansen, AKA Tycho, has been a producer and a graphic designer for over a decade, and his work in each field is as consummately professional as it should be by now. But competence doesn't equal resonance, a fact that's clear in Hansen's recent work. Awake, his fourth album, is also his first with a full band, and it has more of a stripped-back production style than 2011's Dive. But the overly simplistic songwriting withers here, leaving behind a set of songs that grasp at clichéd emotions without offering any tension or conflict to really make them interesting.
The sound of Awake is subdued post-rock. Guitars echo into an epic valley of reverb, but there are no aural fireworks, just a rhythm section writhing underneath. Hansen's bass player and drummer are actually the best parts of Awake: careful and precise, they have a nuance that Hansen lacks. Tracks like "Dye" and "Spectre" have wonderful percussive interplay with bland accompaniment. On "Montana," Hansen drowns everything with Joshua Tree, ham-fisted overkill that's only aggravated by the choral vocals that push its second half into self-parody.
Tycho's grandeur can be satisfying in small doses. The title track gallops into action, taking flight with a melody so earnest it would be heartening if the same idea wasn't repeated over and over again across the LP. "See" has searing guitar leads that surface every few bars, a tantalizing bit of edginess that proves the band can rise above the adult contemporary doldrums.
Perhaps the best way to understand Awake is to consider its artwork, which is designed by Hansen. It shows the same sun that adorns the cover of Dive, but this time it's stripped of ambiance and made severe. It's colour-coded with lines that represent each track—flip open the digipak and there are more abstract shapes in the same style. It's appealing stuff, but dig deeper and you'll find there's not much beneath the pristine surface.