Washed Out - Within And Without

A perfectly crafted album that sounds exactly like we hoped it would.

Chillwave, blisscore, hypnagogic pop – call it what you will, but the movement that first came to prominence back in the heady summer days of 2009 and cemented it’s omnipotence in 2010 is currently enjoying something of a second coming. So far this year, we’ve already had sophomore efforts from Toro Y Moi and Memory Tapes, plus notable releases from newcomers such as Vondelpark and Com Truise, and yet it’s this, debut LP proper of Atlanta, Georgia resident Ernest Greene, that’s been the most eagerly awaited. That it’s essentially taken two years to write and record could’ve been an ominous sign, although as he told us recently, the delay was more due to touring demands, getting used to proper studios, and moving house.

He also claimed that he started with an idea of what he definitely didn’t want the album to sound like, primarily none of the aforementioned genres. Has he succeeded? Both ‘Life of Leisure’ and ‘High Times’ had a fuzzy warmth to them, a lo-fi lushness akin to snapping a sunset through a Vaseline smeared lens and opener ‘Eyes Be Closed’ plunges straight back into that vibe while sounding more euphoric, ambitious, and dare I say it, epic. It’s a bold opening statement, and it’s no surprise that it was chosen as the lead single, although what follows is a departure from his earlier material. Everything’s a little more structured and taut, with the vocals more fully formed and higher in the mix, factors that perhaps came from worry about how to translate it all to a live setting.

In saying that, being let loose in a proper studio and having someone like Ben Allen helping out at the controls undoubtedly helped with the evolution, and it’s clear that a lot of thought went into the details. ‘Far Away’ has a distinctive orchestral flavour, with chiming bells, mournful strings, and timpani drums, and demonstrates a move away from samples to more live instrumentation, while ‘Amor Fati’ is his most conventional song to date, backed by live drums and a traditional structure. An appreciation of hip-hop shines through in the beat to ‘Before’, which contrasts nicely with the down-tempo minimalism of the title track, complete with beautifully layered vocals, and his take on the piano ballad, ‘A Dedication’, with which he signs off.

Of course, he hasn’t totally abandoned the formula that made him successful in the first place. ‘You And I’ might be his first collaboration – with Caroline Polachek of Chairlift – but it’s also more reminiscent of ‘Life Of Leisure’ in ambience and carefree structure. Greene’s said that when he writes, he focuses ‘less on particulars, and more on feelings and flow’, and that’s exactly the trick he’s pulled off here – upping his game without losing the charm the made his music so appealing in the first place. With his earlier releases, there was more than a hint that here was someone making bedroom music to please himself, and not necessarily to unleash on the wider world. Here, he confronts that expectation and responsibility head on and isn’t found wanting, with the seamless way the augmented instrumentation blends in with the samples and effects highlighting how his production skills are equal to his composition. He has extended his sonic palette but, much like Chaz Bundwick, resisted the temptation to use bells and whistles to cover up lazy writing or a lack of ideas. Instead, Greene has given us a perfectly crafted album that sounds exactly like we hoped it would.

Tags: Washed Out, Reviews, Album Reviews

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