I, like most people I know, have something of a love/hate relationship with pop music. When it’s done right, it’s captivating, melodic, uplifting and challenging without being overbearing. When it’s done wrong it’s banal, repetitive, derivative and flat out boring. Where the line gets drawn between “good” pop music and “bad” pop music is a matter of both personal taste and scholarly debate, but the good news is you’d be hard-pressed to find anything boring or banal about Tic Tic and their debut Comfort in the Echo.
Hailing from Kristiansand, Norwary, Irene Svendsen and Kai Drange have been making dark, atmospheric pop music from their home studio as Tic Tic for seven years. 2017 saw them release their debut EP, Where Do We Go, to much acclaim, and they’ve finally geared up to release a full length. Comfort in the Echo sees the band double down on their blend of pop sensibilities with trip-hop, post-rock and alternative music to achieve something that is equal parts organic and futuristic, both accessible and experimental. Seamlessly blending modular synths, digital beats, looped backtracks and vocorders with delicate clean vocals, guitars, analog synthesizers and more expressive digital instruments like the Eigenharp give the music a lot more humanity than the average pop song, as do the dark, sometimes brooding and always introspective lyrics penned by the duo. Svendsen and Drange take turns delivering lead vocals and supporting each other with light harmonies, blending their distinct voices in a way that pairs quite nicely with the somewhat sparse background instruments. This is a synthpop record that surprisingly doesn’t beat you over the head with synthesizers. Rather, the focus is more on the lyrics and vocals, with a bevvy of cool electronics building a pedestal for them to shine on without overpowering anything.
Immediately on firing up Comfort in the Echo, I am struck by just how catchy these songs can be without resorting to the typical pop tropes of having one singular hook and gang choruses every ten seconds. It’s just clever songwriting that is really well done, and it shows just how much Tic Tic can do while still keeping a minimal, atmospheric feel to the electronics. The one-two punch of opening tracks “My Tribe” and “Autopilot” showcase Svendsen’s airy, graceful vocals over simple but alluring modular loops and light electronic percussion. “Autopilot” in particular feels like the most poppy song on the album, with a bouncy, bass heavy atmosphere and catchy vocal hooks in the chorus. Still, this is anything but your typical pop song, as Tic Tic’s lyrics transcend the surface-level, fake-deep aesthetic you would find on the radio and go for more thoughtful expressions. “Fake It” features Drange more prominently and also is catchy to the point that hearing it once had me humming the end to myself for hours. The end of the album gets a little more experimental, with “Everything Familiar” putting out a healthy dose of trip-hop, “Get Back in Line” using the angriest vocorders I’ve ever heard and the instrumental “You Drank Ian” (my Saturday morning refrain when I wonder why my entire body hurts) featuring brooding synth washes and menacing percussion. There’s quite a lot of variety on Comfort in the Echo, which I really enjoy, and every song seems to have the potential to be the one song stuck in your brain endlessly.
Tic Tic might be just now releasing their debut album, but they’ve clearly spent a lot of time honing their craft, to their credit. This is a pop record not for pop music’s sake, but with a passion and a purpose, which is what sets it miles ahead of the generic, cookie-cutter pop that you find playing everywhere you turn. For me, it scratches that musical itch guilt-free, which is refreshing and a much needed breath in my current dive into dense, technical death metal.