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Washed Out – Within or Without

Ernest Greene keeps on steering listeners away from convention, forgoing quiet-loud dynamics and melding together textures so rich you would swear the music coming out of your speakers is tangible.

Go Sub Pop, go! They already had a roster of artists that are putting out some of the best albums of 2011 and have now added Ernest Greene’s much-lauded project, Washed Out. I can’t remember an artist signing getting me that excited in quite a long time. And so finally the day came . . . Synconation’s PO Box, stuffed with a manilla envelope from the label. Sub Pop + Washed Out = incredibly, possibly unfairly, high expectations.

Washed Out’s 2009 EP, Life of Leisure was a turn-the-corner moment for me. I, like many scenester dinosaurs, could be regularly heard saying, “All I listen to is old stuff, I can’t get into anything new.” Then the moment came and indeed, I felt it all around. So fast forward to 2011. There is this whole chillwave genre now and other bands that kind of sound like Washed Out. I suppose that’s the natural progression of things. You birth something novel, and I would argue that it’s possible even when relying heavily on a manipulated sample, and people are moved enough to follow suit.

This is an album that begs listen after listen.

Within and Without is the new full-length album, available July 10th. The cover is a couple in the sack and is actually a good metaphor for Washed Out’s sound at large. It’s like spending the day in your dimly lit bedroom. Some may think that sounds like a commercial for anti-depressants, but for those of us that don’t, it’s an absolute luxury. It sounds glorious. And being joined by a significant other, well, whether that makes the scenario richer, depends on your situation. I digress…

This is an album that begs listen after listen. It is lushly layered in such a way that embedded nuances and tones reveal themselves with each new spin. It’s not filled with dynamic or sonically rich moments, but still incites similar emotive responses that those characteristics tend to, by utilizing texture. There are moments that tend to drag, but never for long. The sound is expansive and transcends the chillwave niche, but contains the analogue synthesizer love, drowsy demeanor and  even the roto-toms to keep the fan base not only happy, but thrilled. It does feel like there is less of a nod to the 80s sound that the genre is so strongly associated with and more of a move to modern ambient contemporaries.

It would be nearly impossible for Within and Without to contain a “Feel It All Around” moment. I mean, what do you expect? Mr. Greene has already forefathered one new genre. But the opening track, “Eyes Be Closed” is not far off. Waves of delayed-out synth sounds, a steady electronic high hat, seemingly lazy melody and echoed vocals. It feels odd to describe music as gorgeous, but it truly is. This track feels like a proclamation, like Ernest is saying, “Told you I wasn’t a passing fad.”

The next track, “Echoes” seemingly meanders, feels even audibly monochromatic, but does have a certain trance quality but feels flat placed after such a gigantic opener. “Amor Fati” is ruled by the multi-layered vocals and bouncy synth undertones that give it a pop feel. I could even hear this on the radio . . . crossover hit anybody? Infectious and beautiful converging; I’m just gushing at this point.

The following tracks are strong, nothing is a throwaway here, but the next moment in the album that really ‘hits,’ is in the seventh track, “You and I.” It starts with a repeated, unintelligible soporific sounding vocal, giving it a meditative mantra quality. A more distinguishable vocal line comes in, with that patented languid characteristic that makes listening to Washed Out feel so disarming, so serene. The song is steady and breaks with a female vocal interjection and then a breathy spoken performance by Caroline Palachek . . . bringing the song – possibly the album – to climax. Songs like these and others on this album, along with tracks like “Oh, Something’s Quiet” from J.Viewz, just may see the genre shifting to the new sound in romance. Libidowave? That’s probably a little crude, but hell, it’s catchy.

Ernest gives the album a proper closing, with “A Dedication” that strongly resembles Fugazi’s “I’m So Tired.” A lazy piano ballad that will make you feel like it’s gray and raining outside, even in the sunniest setting. Synth stabs and a steady beat eventually enter, for posterity I suppose.

This is an entire album, not a one or two song effort bundled around analog synthesizer snoozefests. Ernest Greene keeps on steering listeners away from convention, forgoing quiet-loud dynamics and melding together textures so rich you would swear the music coming out of your speakers is tangible.

Visit Sub Pop for further release information or to pre-order your copy.

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