A few years ago, you couldn’t have a discussion about electronica without invariably hearing one name in particular: Scott Hansen aka Tycho; at least, that was the case in the circles I frequented – your own experience might differ. Either way, there’s no denying that the Sacramento-born musician has left a huge mark on the ’10s with his soft-spoken electronica. Weaving together threads of ambient, IDM, post-rock, and shoegaze into somnambulant aural tapestry, his work has been among the most refreshing and healing musical discoveries in recent years for many, myself included.
Now, nearing the 10-year anniversary of his sophomore release Dive (which is coming up in two days, on November 8), we saw it fit to shake off the thin layer of dust that has since accumulated on this record – figuratively; it’s still a regular spin for quite a few EIN members – to give it another go at the spotlight. For this, I invited my dear colleagues Billie, Jake, and Alex to share their takes on this delightful record; the results, as you may have guessed, can be found below.
You know what’s good? Dive, by Tycho.
When our editorial staff pitched this album as one ripe for revisiting, I was ready to pounce on it like a neon tiger. Why? Because I don’t really listen to electronic music all that much. Hell, I don’t even like much of it. But Dive? Dive is a different story altogether. I don’t have some life-long connection to this album, or a grand memory of my first listen as many others might, but what I know is that after I did listen to it, my perception of what makes good electronic music was solidified and every electronic album I listened to thereafter was measured against it.
To begin the story it’s important to understand why I don’t like this kind of music. To my ears, a lot of electronic music fails to engage me due to its lack of warmth, narrow vision, and lack of dynamics. I know there’s probably plenty of it out there that would tickle my fancy were I to wrap my ears around it, but for the most part, I tend to avoid exploration in that realm. This is probably to my own detriment, but hey, I’ve not been wanting for anything to pipe into my ears lately, so we’ll leave that as it is for now. But back to Tycho and Dive.
All of the elements that I find a bit boring in electronic music are deftly avoided in Tycho’s masterpiece. And it’s the way that these tropes are avoided that make it so much more than that. The warmth of “A Walk”, the airiness of “Daydream”, and the melodicism of “Ascension” are all mold-breakers of the genre that help elevate this record from great to unmissable. The inclusion of acoustic guitar on “Melanine” and that catchy synth lead melody are why that is one of my favorite tracks on this album. These elements play right into my tastes, and to get a melody stuck in my head without vocals or lyrics is a testament to how great the songwriting is and why Dive will stand as one of my favorite instrumental albums of all time.
Music can serve many purposes: focus, chill, hype, relax, etc. It’s rare that one album can contain all of these moods at once and no matter the context in which it is played will always coalesce with the mood and moment. This album is a lock for one of my favorites of all time and has been that way for the decade that these melodies have been in my head. Incredible beats, amazing atmosphere, lovely leads, and above all, it’s memorable. I can’t think of a rival to this record, and my connection to it only grows stronger as the years pass. Go listen to it again, or for the first time. You’ll always be glad that you did.
The wide-ranging world of electronic music is one of the last styles of music I really got into. For many years I just wasn’t ever captivated by the songs I would hear. Most of my exposure to EDM at that time was from the big household names, and I didn’t seek out more on my own. It wasn’t until an ex-girlfriend showed me this album that my entire perception of electronic music changed.
Tycho blew my mind from my first listen, which was the opening track to Dive, “A Walk”. I listened to a couple others with her, and then revisited the entire album by myself later. This was in 2016, shortly before the release of Epoch. Dive and Awake became regular listens for me, and honestly both still remain so to this day. Tycho has an unrivaled way of creating beautiful IDM soundscapes with so much atmosphere and texture that you can get lost in it immediately and still keep picking up on tiny new things after repeat listens.
I have a really hard time talking about individual tracks and moments on Dive, because it’s so often been a background album to my life for the last few years. It’s an album I always put on when I’m driving home late at night, or when I’m stoned and having deep talks with friends but need a quiet soundtrack to accompany our voices. It’s also an amazing listen if you’re a runner, with a constant pounding beat driving forward almost the entire time. Really, there’s never a bad time or place to listen to any Tycho.
“Daydream” reminds me of life in my old apartment, playing this album so loudly on cleaning days that my neighbors surely hated me. It hits like sunshine beaming through a window on a Spring day and tea that steeped the perfect amount of time. It’s strange to have such a nostalgic feeling for a time that really wasn’t that long ago in my life, yet feels like a lifetime away now also.
The live instrumentation Tycho utilizes is really what brings it all together. It gives his music so much life and richness, and his masterful use of dazzling electronic soundscapes will have you enticed in no time at all. “Dive” is a song I feel like you could show almost anybody and they could vibe with it. It’s eight minutes of bliss, and I get lost in it every single time. If I really had to pick this apart track by track, I think “Coastal Brake” might be my favorite song. It’s mesmerizing and trance-like, and the way the sounds sweep like an ocean tide as the drums kick in is one of my favorite moments in music that I’ve ever heard. I really can’t get enough of Dive, and I don’t think I ever will.
One fascinating thing about Tycho’s serene music is how divisive it can be. Reading this review from Pitchfork’s Mina Tavakoli about 2020’s instrumental accompaniment to 2019’s wonderful Weather LP, Simulcast, the writer’s perspective about that record and Mr. Scott Hansen’s overall art is that it merely exists to fill up empty space. That it’s perfectly harmless, inoffensive, and even utilitarian. That it’s to be heard while you’re doing literally anything else (like, say, writing for a new A Scene In Retrospect segment?) Honestly, to some degree, Tavakoli is correct. Except while they tolerated his style at best, the big difference is that’s what people like me love about Tycho’s iridescent craft. An insult would go something like ‘this is just music to fall asleep to‘, and most fans would respond: ‘Yeah, no shit, that’s why we like it!‘ A love that bloomed thanks to Dive.
Scott Hansen’s second record, Dive is like a downtempo, ambient, and hypnagogic sensory deprivation adventure. One very common music writer trope – next to tiresome cooking/food analogies – is to talk about how a record ‘transports’ one to another realm; washing away the now, pushing your immediate surroundings (and feelings) into background. For most records, it’s a forced application. But here, it seems like that’s Hansen’s whole intent throughout the 50-minute duration, bathing you in calming oceanic landscapes. This is basically psychedelic post-rock, predominantly envisioned via a Minimoog. It’s some Boards of Canada worship, with hints of DJ Shadow (just listen to “Epigram”) to Brain Eno and Aphex Twin, all the way down for what was then a new decade.
Dive is straightforward lo-fi electronica, made in REAPER with various out-board gear, and it brims with memorable star-gazing melodies and high-contrast colorful moods. But let’s dive in (there it is!) a little deeper. We’ve got cracking live-sampled percussion and looped break-beats, Jianda Johnson’s breathy vocal samples on occasion, many warm low-end rumbles, pretty analog synths, bleeping radar-loops, lovely arpeggiated scales, and Zac Brown’s light electric-bass riffs and spindling acoustic motifs. Everything is simplistic in presentation, droning on in carefree and elated waves, but it’s so clearly stream-lined and lovingly made. So much so that it’s infectious; bubbly and soothing from the melodic sunrise of opener “A Walk” until the mood-heavy sunset of closer “Elegy.”
Was Tycho at the right place at the right time with Dive, arriving at that sweet mid-point between the electronica, noise, and lo-fi explosion of the late 2000s and oncoming instrumental synthwave and ambient pop tsunami the 2010s would be flooded in? I’ll leave that one to future smarmy culture commentators who use ‘post-modern’ too much to figure that out, for in this very moment, as the album reaches its big 1-0 milestone and I reflect on this reverie-inducing work, I’m just happy to live in the soft ebb and flow of Dive. I was born too late to discover the world and too early to discover the deepest reaches of space, but I was born just in time to experience Tycho. #Blessed.