23 August 2011
listen: within and without
Can this album convince us that Washed Out’s music is more than just skin deep?
Washed Out’s 2009 EP “Life of Leisure” opened the floodgates for “chillwave”- a distinctive keyboard-based sound that harks back to the soft 70s era R&B rhythms and 80s hypnotic synth pop – that has had more than its fair share of detractors since then, most notably on the other side of the Atlantic where at times British critics are barely able to hide their utter contempt for the entire genre.
It definitely makes for fun reading, particularly now that Washed Out (the stage name for Ernest Greene) is back with a full length album. From ten breathtakingly neutral tracks that push the needle on the chillwaver’s sound from limpid to insipid; from blissfully oblivious to bland; to (You and I) with its panpipe synths and zenist chants (a tasteful bit of ethno-techno yack it begs to be skipped, for fear you’ll grow a ponytail and a web designer’s goatee); it’s a bit of a free for all.
Meanwhile back in America, the reception has been a lot more welcoming, with the new record variously described as “a savvy balance of melody and mood” while “Greene’s muffled vocals and haunting atmospherics provide angst-ridden counterpoints”.
So stepping back from the conversation, what is the fuss all about? At its best, Within and Without is able to conjure moments of fragile sensitivity and a delicateness that is hard to resist – most notably on Soft and also Echoes.
With Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion producer Ben Allen at the mixing desk, the sound is polished and slick, featuring multiple samples and loops to help create a velvet lushness. And perhaps it is this polished smoothness that some critics just can’t see past. It is almost as if the sound is too picture perfect, too beautiful, like the couple on the cover, which could convincingly pass for either a Ralph Lauren or Benetton magazine advertisement.
Ultimately this is where the challenge lies for Ernest Greene – to convince us that his music’s beauty is more than just skin deep and that it does have real soul. The jury is out.