Great art so often comes from dark, restless places. Creative trailblazers channel inner turmoil into their work as a cathartic measure, exorcising demons through the stroke of a paintbrush or punch of a piano key.
But in Scott Hansen, we have an artist who oozes a rare sense of total contentment; a figure who’s found a way to open blissful aural floodgates and altruistically invited us to come bathe in the beat pool, right next to him.
A graphic designer by trade, Hansen began releasing music as Tycho just after the turn of the millennium, specialising in a sanguine, soothing sound that echoed the tranquil touches of his artwork.
So far, his quartet of studio albums (Past Is Prologue, Dive, Awake, and Epoch) – each swelling with pacifying, naturalised synths and basslines – has earned him a warm, fuzzy hug from listeners, but just a polite smile and nod from professional critics.
See, the atmospheric consistency of Hansen’s music puts him in rarefied but somewhat unenviable company. His counterparts in electronica with literal band aids – like Bonobo and Nicolas Jaar – are admired for cooking a fusion of darker, intricate flavours into their records alongside the earwormy singles that many recognise.
Tycho’s agreeable chillwave, in comparison, has arguably lacked such complexity and range. Consequently, critics haven’t managed to drum up quite the same level of adoration for an artist who fails to stray too far from Sunday morning electronica – especially whilst his playlist neighbours are consistently drenching their music in more layers and moods.
But with Weather, we might just have the watershed moment where commentators begin to gaze at Tycho with the same besotted look as his supporters; saucer-eyed as a fawn nibbling a new berry. Until now, Hansen has let cloud nine beats drift breezily through melodic skies. On his latest LP, they are subject to vocal downpours for the first time, and it’s a revelation.
Upon the conclusion of the trippy opener, Easy, which bobs along on gooey synth and hazy vocal smears, singer Hannah Cottrell (aka Saint Sinner) moves into earshot on Pink & Blue – telling a tale of romantic involvement with a man and woman simultaneously. Hansen has been making a conscious effort to bring his band into the foreground, and on Weather he holds the mic to angelic vocalist Cottrell, asking her to take the reins. It’s clear the addition of lyrics has been a premeditated process. Cottrell stars on five of eight tracks and may even be the anonymous female on the album cover (a space usually reserved for Hansen’s geometric design work).
Hansen’s faith in his frontwoman makes the project feels like an enduring partnership – and Weather is all the more powerful for it. Vocals give clearer emotive direction on a Tycho record for the first time, but – crucially – there’s still plenty of room for the listener to apply their own experiences and feelings to the cosy beats beneath. Whether it’s above the faintly Eastern chimes on Japan, the subdued guitar twangs on Skate, or the woozy melody on For How Long, Cottrell is more than just a feature here. She’s a crucial cog in each composition; sailing between the rhythm with the same sense of belonging as any other instrument.
‘No Stress’ is probably best example of why she has proven such an inspired choice. In almost any other instance, the lyrics here (“If it doesn’t work the first time . . . don't stress, don’t stress”) could quickly be scoffed at as pop psychology. But, with Cottrell’s soft, breathy vocals taking the tone of a wise, old grandparent – someone who’s been there, done it, got the heart transplant – advice you’ve heard a thousand times before suddenly feels fresh, rousing and worth listening to.
Whilst Cottrell’s presence is tactful and affecting throughout, Hansen wisely knows which tracks should be left to breathe alone. One is the entrancing Into The Woods; an adventure through the leaf-whipped wilderness, punctuated by sporadic, gentle whooshes that seem to mimic the sound of bushes being pulled aside by an explorer tearing through the timberlands.
Fittingly, though, the piece that surmises the record as a thoughtful, evolutionary chapter for Tycho is the titular Weather. What starts out as a sunrise soundtrack patiently erupts into a thundershower of keys, strings and kickdrums. It’s a moving, expansive closer that embodies Hansen’s mindful and – dare I say it – natural progression as an artist.
Hansen has cited this past year as the most inspirational of his career. It shows. On Weather, his formerly sedative sound morphs into a vivid dream; the consoling kind you never really want to wake up from.