Washed Out is the dreamy, lo-fi, groove-oriented music project of Ernest Greene, a good ol’ boy from Perry, Georgia. Within and Without is his much-anticipated first full-length album. Along with Washed Out, recent acts like Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi – all of whom use 1970s and 1980s synthesizers, funky or down-tempo dance beats, and mellow vocals to produce hazy, languid, sometime blissed-out music – have been corralled into a novel genre, chillwave, self-consciously invented and scrutinized by music bloggers and critics. The chillwave aesthetic encircles ethereal, groovy music played on lush synthesizers and beat boxes, perhaps as heard on an old, much-loved, overdubbed cassette tape that has suffered data rot over the decades. Warmth, fluidity, and nostalgia are oft desired traits, and some of chillwave’s well-known songs, including Greene’s, have relied heavily on samples for their structure and riffs.
Apropos to the cassette tape aesthetic, Greene released a cassette-only EP on micro-indie label Mirror Universe Tapes, the underground hit High Times (2009). The Life of Leisure 12″ (Mexican Summer, 2009) also made an impact on the scene. Washed Out took a low-key approach to promotion and was basically discovered and ballyhooed by music bloggers, his fame spreading via the Internet and word of mouth. The nine selections on Within and Without therefore represent Greene’s jump to the big time, having inked a deal with the famous Sub Pop Records. The album is also seemingly a test to see whether his approach can withstand the medium shift from lo-fi to major-distribution indie CD production values. It is also a test to see whether he can write material without heavily relying on sampled material from the past (which can be difficult and/or expensive to clear).
Although 1980s synth-pop, ambient, and even disco influence Greene’s music (like that of Dan Snaith, who records as Caribou and previously Manitoba), shoegaze hovers in the background as a seminal genre that opened up possibilities for soundscapes and atmosphere in indie and DIY music. The dreamy, mellow vocal style of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell of 1990s English shoegazers Slowdive, twining slow, sustained harmonies, and the band’s famous dynamic guitar washes, aided by banks of effects pedals, all seem to have deeply affected Greene. Slowdive’s ambient 5 EP (Creation, 1993) and its companion, In Mind Remixes EP (Creation, 1993), as well as the Souvlaki (Creation, 1993) and Pygmalion (Creation, 1995) albums, seem particularly close to Greene. Washed Out, like another shoegaze-sans-guitars act, M83, simply could not have existed without the precedent of shoegazing. This is most evident on the stunning opener “Eyes Be Closed.” Another standout track, “Far Away,” uses strings (perhaps cello) to create texture and affect, recalling Ride’s classic single “Vapor Trail” a bit. “Far Away” creates a pensive but expansive feeling and an image of color-sound waves rippling through a vast cathedral. Greene is fascinated by huge swaths of sound, like broad, sun-faded canvas sails rippling against a cloudless blue sky.
Odd, transcendent moments from the history of pop, such as the rising swells of sound in the midst of the hit single “I’m Not Alone” by 10CC, seem to have been taken to heart by Greene. The warm, fuzzy synth-popper “Amor Fati” sounds like a stoned Howard Jones remixed by Neil Halstead. “You and I” is a dreamy dirge in the now-signature Washed Out style, and for some reason I could hear it on the soundtrack to a lost episode of Miami Vice. The melancholy and atmospheric closer “A Dedication” uses piano and echoed vocals before introducing a hip-hop beat, recalling Doves or Thom Yorke solo.
Within and Without is a very good, very well-crafted album. It spins glistening cocoons of sound that envelope the listener. Moreover, it is at times surprisingly understated and personal. Greene seems to be making the music he wants to and is by no means pandering to any particular audience. I feel that Washed Out has suffered to a small extent from the weight of critical discussion and buildup that resulted after Greene’s music was discovered on the underground level. Also, the fact that this album is produced by Ben H. Allen, who not only co-produced Animal Collective’s acclaimed breakout album Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino, 2009), but also produced Cee-Lo Green and Gnarls Barkley, also stirs the imagination to dream of sonic possibilities that aren’t always realized. If Within and Without doesn’t totally meet hyperbolic, admittedly subjective expectations, it is an appealing, open-feeling, and often transporting debut album.Visit: Washed Out | Sub Pop
Purchase: Insound | eMusic