Washed Out - Within and Without

I'm currently enrolled in a Music Criticism class at NYU.  This was an assignment for a 400 - 500 word review.  Thought I'd throw it up here.  

Best album art of the year?
In late 2009 a buzzword started floating around the internet describing the lo-fi electronic micro genre that was permeating the blogosphere.  Chillwave, as it was named, had arrived.  Characterized by bedroom production, echoing beats, processed synthesizers and a nostalgia for the 80s, the music intentionally sounded like your most played new wave cassette tape had been left crashing in the surf, only to be bleached by the sun as the tide receded. 

            2011 has seen the follow up releases for many of chillwave’s front-running artists, including 27 year old Georgia based Ernest Greene, who produces under the name Washed Out.  But with waning interest in the genre, it’s hard to know what to expect in new releases from these young artist.  Two years since chillwave’s appearance and it already seems like a fad, a flash in the pan.  Can these artists continue to entice with new sounds, or will chillwave prove to be nothing more than a production technique used to drown recycled ideas in reverb? 

            Perhaps in anticipation of this sentiment, Washed Out’s debut LP Within And Without, the follow up to two EPs that helped define the genre, opens with a statement.  From the start this album sounds BIG, bigger than anything that could come out of bedroom production.  Opener and lead single “Eyes Be Closed” wastes very little time moving into epic territory.  Greene’s vocals maintain the disinterested reverb drenched quality of his past work, making them more a texture of the song than a statement of its meaning.  But as the 808s drive forward and the synths rise upward, the song implies more the triumphant feel of standing on a mountain top than chillwave’s usual baked at the beach vibe. 
            Within And Without swells and recedes, keeping the listeners attention and avoiding the realm of background music.   Album highlights like “Amor Fati” and “Before” are evenly spaced between equally interesting chill tracks like the longing filled “Far Away”.  Greene borrows from disco, new wave, house and dub, but most interestingly, and perhaps daring, is his incorporation of new age (think Enya for the skinny jeans wearing hipster next door).  These genres are run through Washed Out’s signature filter, adding a warmth and intimacy to the sound. 
All of this falls neatly within the confines of the genre within which Washed Out has been typecast.  But what Greene has done is to take chillwave out of the bedroom and into the studio, providing a cleaner polish and a statement of the genres potential.  Whether chillwave persists or fizzles out, Within And Without will stand as one of it’s best records, one that despite it’s confines has the capability to transcend to an audience larger than those that follow the trends of the blogosphere.

1 comment:

  1. That track sounds like an updated version of the closing song for the Breakfast Club. Prissy Molly Ringwald puts the diamond stud in and walks away into life with the grungy guy, yes?