Washed Out – Within and Without

Washed Out - Within and Without

If you attempt to parse together chillwave’s patchwork history, it was probably born about 30 years ago but then laid dormant until 2009 when three artists named Chaz Bundick, Alan Palomo, and Ernest Greene began to make waves in the blogging community with their smeary bedroom synth-pop. The summer of 2010 was the newly christened style’s moment in the limelight; chillwave – or glo-fi, or hypnagogic pop, etcetera – probably would’ve met its inevitable backlash even sooner had its popularity not peaked in those dog days of June, July, and August. Frankly, it’d be hard to conjure up a specific musical niche that more pointedly encapsulates the year’s hottest season than the one in which Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, and Washed Out dabble. In the same manner that an alluring, yet warped, sense of nostalgia tends to emanate in the moments after a dream of one’s dearest childhood memories, chillwave’s fractured pastiche of sugary synth-pop, amorphous psychedelia, meandering vocals, and hip-hop grooves begs you to reawaken every vaguely sentimental experience of your youth and piece it together into a charming, but convoluted, storyboard. More succinctly, it’s as fitting a companion to summer as a cold beer is to pizza.

So here we are in the scorching middle third of 2011, well underway with the predicted hipster rejection of what was, only 12 months ago, the toast of the Twittersphere. It’s in this moment that Ernest Greene (alias – Washed Out) chose to release his debut LP. Talk of the Georgia resident’s inaugural long-player has been almost ceaseless since his 2009 Life of Leisure EP captivated listeners with its shimmering washes of synthesizer melodies and hypnotic layers of reverb-affected vocals.

Rather than attempting a conspicuous aesthetic shift in response to what has become a polarizing subject, Greene seems to be deliberately snubbing pop culture convention on Within and Without; this is gloriously lush and hopelessly romanticized electronic music that celebrates time immemorial, with songs that are every bit as hazy and halcyon as a beach party at sunset. In all sincerity though, it wouldn’t have mattered whether or not Greene tried to tinker with his sound at all; his music will be forever linked to an ephemeral movement in our tech-savvy society. On Within and Without, Greene celebrates the movement instead of distancing himself from it.

Given that nearly every one of the nine tunes on Within and Without are packed with ethereal atmospheres, opulent keyboard melodies, and Greene’s drowsy voice, it’s clear that sonic innovation and risk taking were not part of the Washed Out game plan.  From the sea breeze synth chords of opener “Eyes Be Closed” to the pacifying midtempo dance grooves of “Soft,” Within and Without establishes an insouciant mood and rides it all the way to “A Dedication,” which, as the closing track, showcases Greene’s songwriting at its most vulnerable and transcendent. Backed by only a piano and the ubiquitous vocal echo, Greene unfurls a gentle love song that speaks volumes with minimal orchestration.

Other standout tracks include “Far Away,” with its mallet percussion and violin counterpoint, and the subterranean aquatic textures of “You and I.” No curveballs or gauntlets being thrown here; if you want a challenge for your ears, you’d do well to give the new Gang Gang Dance record a spin. But really, who wants to be put to the test in oppressively hot and humid weather like this anyhow? All we really want right now are some jams to soundtrack these days of eternal sunshine and oceanfront revelries.  On these demands, Washed Out delivers in spades.