A cursory look at the comments on NPR's "First Listen" page for Tycho's latest effort shows that Scott Hansen's project isn't for everyone. Two especially snarky comments: "No need to buy this when I'll be able to hear it in a Hyundai commercial anyways," to which another commenter responded: "I think it is already looping on the Weather Channel."
As those one liners fail to account for the strength of Tycho's songwriting, the gorgeous layers of instrumentation, or the phenomenal production of the album, I'll attempt a different tact. Imagine what the soundtrack to Drive might have sounded like had the Driver just picked up Irene and her son and headed out of LA, traveling north up the Pacific Coast Highway towards Big Sur, only exchanging meaningful, yet wordless glances between them for the better part of an hour before disappearing off into the sunset. Awake is not too far off from that. While no one would had much love or patience for that version of Drive (well, save for us few who would relish the opportunity to stare into Ryan Gosling's eyes for an extended period of time), isn't that idea—that mix of escape, of the present gaining vitality, finally overshadowing the failings of the past and our worries about the future—just about what we all hope for from our happiest moments?
Where Awake's predecessor Dive hovered in the liminal period between first light and sunrise (or perhaps between sunset and evening, depending on your mood and how you interpret the cover art), Awake is the soundtrack to a perfect afternoon. It's not a completely cloudless sky, but it's not far off, and while I find this to be one of Awake's finest qualities, I am sure some will miss the subtle undercurrents of Dive. Wonderfully, the two records play quite well together—Dive quietly blurs into Awake, and vice versa, almost seamlessly.
The true strength of the album is that it functions best as a whole. Having already released the first two tracks, "Awake" and "Montana," as well as "Spectre," as singles, I was pleasantly surprised that my first instinct after listening to the album the whole way through wasn't to revisit the tracks I enjoyed the most (well, except for occasionally listening to "See" twice in a row before letting the record continue), but to play through the album again in its entirety. Any attempt at pinning down a favorite track, or even one I'd rather hear more than the others, has been futile so far, the assignation too ephemeral.
On top of that, Awake's release date couldn't have been better planned. Spring is almost upon us (even if that is hard to believe today in the aftermath of a freak winter storm that dropped about six inches of snow around Washington, DC), and as the weather continues to improve, I figure that Awake will soundtrack a fair number of the coming days. Like the soft descent into autumn, the emergence from winter is one of those moments every year that seems imbued with an abundance of meaning. In the autumn, introspection, a look back; in the spring, rebirth, eyes on the horizon at the birth of a new day. Awake will be a fine companion as the days grow warmer and longer, and we finally shake off the slow grey chill of winter.