Washed Out: Within and Without

By , Jul 26 2011

Available on: Weird World LP

In our culture of ever-shortening cycles of fashion, it already seems an age since journalists and bloggers were falling over each other to find a suitable moniker for the movement of bedroom-produced, lo-fi electronica seeping out of underground America. While the resultant “chillwave” was never more than an artificial construct, one man who’s indelibly linked with it is Earnest Weatherly Greene, a.k.a. Washed Out. Releasing the acclaimed Life of Leisure EP in 2009, he’s waited until now to gift us with a full length album. But as the tide of hype begins to recede, the question remains whether there’s still a need for yet another lesson in hazy synths and sampled tape hiss.

From the opening chords of Within And Without however, it’s clear Greene doesn’t have time for such debates. Evoking Animal Collective at their most accessible, the soaring vocals and reverb-laden harmonies expose the presence of producer Ben Allen, the man behind the mixing desk on Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Expanding Washed Out’s sonic spectrum beyond the high end frequencies has imbued his sound with a necessary weight, encouraging Greene to unleash his pop sensibilities and transforming ‘Eyes Be Closed’ and ‘Amor Fati’ into understated anthems that would tempt you to sing along if only you could decipher the words.

Following in the footsteps of Toro Y Moi’s Underneath The Pine, Greene has shuffled out of his bedroom and down to the studio, taking with him a selection of live instrumentation and a more confident vocal approach, the accumulated experience of two years playing his music in a live context. Freed from a reliance on samples, Greene’s personality shines through on tracks like ‘A Dedication’, which veers surprisingly close to traditional song writing territory as he sings tenderly over a bittersweet piano melody and muted horns. On ‘You and I’ he’s joined by Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, whose ethereal moans and intimate whispers diffuse seamlessly between the plodding bassline and fractal synths.

This subtle but significant change to Washed Out’s approach is most clearly felt through the role of drums on the album. Gone are the muffled compressed beats of Life Of Leisure, replaced by the clean and confident clatter of kicks and snares that ground the synth washes of ‘Before’, or the tribal percussive fills that raise the heart rate during ‘Eyes Be Closed’. Even the subdued ‘Echoes’ has an electro-disco rhythm that makes eyes at the dancefloor without quite having the courage to step onto it.

Some of the tracks still struggle to shrug off an aura of stoned apathy, and despite his strained play on Washed Out’s name there is a ring of truth to Diplo’s evaluation when applied to songs like ‘Soft’ or ‘Within And Without’. Ultimately though, this is a self-assured debut album from a musician with an increasing confidence in his own abilities. A logical progression from his previous singles, this is Greene continuing to explore a sound that he helped create, and showing there’s still some mileage left in it.

James Waldron

3.5
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