Short Takes on 1 Album and 2 EPs

Tycho - Dive


Ghostly International

Dive was released on Ghostly International this past autumn and it’s the second album from Tycho, AKA Scott Hansen, a San Francisco-based graphic designer (with some assist on guitar and bass from Zac Brown, Matt McCord, and Dusty Brown).  After a teeth-grinding, eye-rolling day at work, it’s a relief to apply the pleasant balm of Dive and soothe any work-related stress.  Tycho creates instrumental soundscapes with occasional wordless vocal flourishes that result in a refreshed and relaxed listening experience.  Metaphorically-speaking, it’s like actively swimming laps in a pool instead of lounging poolside, but the end result is not one of exhaustion, but of exhilaration.

The gently mesmerizing songs on this album are not static, but constantly move in cycles of joy and bliss, where motifs are repeated and then morph into the next refrain (“Coastal Brake” being a prime example).  Bright-tone electronics reverberate, echo, blip, trickle, crinkle, and percolate over captivating melodic lines timed with deep, kinetic rhythms.  The typical house or rave tune features a speedy beat and way too much repetition, but what Tycho crafts is more involving and shape-shifting – and  it’s what a soundtrack to clubbing in Ibiza *should* sound like!

“A Walk” sports an easy-going to smoothly upbeat vibe, alternately coming on like gentle waves or the brightness of the sun.  This tranquility transitions into “Hours”, which goes the star-speckled space route with a steady beat, distorted reverberations that glide in and out, and liquidy, piano-like synth notes.  Echoed, wordless female vocals circulate at the start of “Dive” until it graduates to a fast-paced beat.  Celestial synth notes palpably pulse through “Ascension” as picked guitar chime and floating female vocals weave through an undercurrent of bass.  “Melanine” meanwhile is the aural equivalent of walking through a lush, tropical forest with quixotic birds of paradise calling out in sweetly pitched harmonies.

Lola Dutronic - New York Stories EP

Lola Dutronic New York Stories EP

Red Star

Lola Dutronic is not a “she”, but a Canadian and Berlin-based electro-pop duo comprised of founding member Richard Citroen and his latest vocalist, Berliner Stephanie B.  Richard already has 3 albums and a previous EP under his belt and this latest EP is out on Red Star Records.  Lola Dutronic is known for its covers of other artists’ songs, and New York Stories is no exception.

Like Nouvelle Vague, but with Francophone-inflected flair, the duo creates alluring, nouveau-retro dance-pop with mainly upbeat tempos and French phrases strewn like beautiful flowers throughout each song.  Stephanie B.’s sing-talking, come-hither vocals are beguilingly soft and her voice is the main selling point of the duo.  The continuously up-tempo opener is a cover of “Kids Just Wanna Dance” by The Fast and it features a light dance-pop atmosphere of buzzing syths, smacked beat, and Stephanie B.’s breathy, sing-talking vocals.

Next up is a sexed-up cover of Suicide’s “Cheree” that sounds like it was recorded in the bedroom – as in, in bed, under the sheets, in what is usually a private moment… Stephanie B. intimately breathes and gasps in ecstasy amid a bright, brisk dancefloor beat, flinging about French phrases like “Je t’adore.” and “Joue avec moi.”  This interpretation recalls the seminal song by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, “Je T’Aimes…, Moi Non Plus”.

A cover of Blondie’s “In The Sun” is pure breezy island-pop replete with the sound of ocean waves, calypso-style percussion, and mostly English lyrics from Stephanie B. (except for the refrain of “au soleil”).  The last two songs slow the pace down a bit, with covers of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” and Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s “Keep Your Dreams”.  Both songs are stripped down in sound and braid in tapping and tinging percussion.  The last track is notable for Stephanie B.’s sweet “la-la-la’s” that float over the main vocal line and, again, her French words, like “pour toujours” and “rêves”,  sung in a dreamy tone.

Inca Gold - Inca Gold III EP

Inca GoldInca Gold III EP


London-based, psych-pop quartet Inca Gold has self-released a run of EPs over the past year and Inca Gold III is its latest and most defined effort.  On the two previous EPs, sounds expanded and compressed in amorphous swirls of wavering synths, blippy electronics, and lead singer Ezequiel Claverie’s hazy, half-buried vocals.  This 4-song EP was released last month as a free download at the band’s official site and it’s more structured and stark, with a Western theme running through the tracks (deeper reverb guitar and measured pace), while Ezequiel’s vocals remain as airy as ever, rising and exclaiming in the vein of Chris Martin or a mellow Jonsi.

There is a harder, noir country attitude lurking beneath the gauzy, dreamy instrumentation and vocals, but it’s engulfed by layered soundscapes that are extended and bent around, giving each song a trippy feel (hence the psych-pop tag), instead of leaning towards a bleak, menacing feel.  It’s always been difficult to discern one Inca Gold song from another and this EP is no exception, with Ezequiel’s vocals mixed to the level of the instruments, to the point where the lyrics have to be teased out by a keen ear.

Harmonica notes (Or is it filtered guitar noise?)  dot “Atom” and there is an underlying foreboding to the lyrics of “Your friends are all coming down.”  This builds up to a brief, sheering blast of guitars that dissipates quickly instead of sticking around for maximum effect and enjoyment.  “Ghostbride” (Ominous title, right?  The song, not so much.) is more ponderous and less swirling, but the vocals remain in a dreamy realm that doesn’t really jibe with the instrumental atmosphere.  Plainer, but still echoed, hazy vocal fill “Split Waves”, as well as swells of reverb guitar.  Short refrains of guitar and elevating vocals lift “Emergency Talks” up, only to be grounded by pressing guitar lines and spoken vocals.