Review: Washed Out

August 9, 2013

Perhaps ‘chillwave’ is too restrictive a label to place upon Washed Out (AKA Ernest Greene) now that he has released Paracosm – the intricate, detailed and mature follow-up to 2011’s full-length debut Within and Without. Sure, his music is still pretty ‘chill’, but Greene has now traversed the boundary between laptop music and more traditional acoustic forms in order to highlight the lines of psychedelia, rock and pop which underscore his art.

There’s a balance between digital and analog on Paracosm, an album which introduces images of the natural world into those long-studied interactions between man and machine – interactions explored deeply on album’s like Radiohead’s Kid A and William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops. Yet Paracosm isn’t so heavy with intellectual weight. It creates an immersive imaginary utopia with its own narrative arc. And there’s not just one narrative concept at play here, so you can quite easily walk into the garden and fulfill the narrative functions yourself.

Working once again with producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter), Greene has built something with retro-futurist touches, and something which isn’t trying to be lo-fi. He sits old analog synths next to recordings of crowds cheering, and vibrant acoustic guitars next to samples of string sections – the latter juxtaposition paying dividends on lead single It All Feels Right.

Washed Out – It All Feels Right

Paracosm is a dense, layered album which Greene has obviously poured many hours of work into. It’s his most clear and consistent aesthetic to date. His vocals are also louder in the mix, and you can feel that he has grown more and more confident in his own sound. That said, Paracosm can feel quite heavy and melancholic at times, perhaps to the utmost degree – and somewhat ironically – on the echoing downtempo track Weightless.

It’s moments like this which give Paracosm its bittersweet honesty. Although the album’s sound is consistent, its emotionality can switch quite sharply. It’s a record which shapes itself to fit your mood, and will eventually try to pull you out of it. The pliability is clever, but the mood shifts can be a little disconcerting if you take them too seriously.

The music of Washed Out is no longer just about being a ‘soundtrack to your summer’, or even a theme-tune for some of television’s best satire. It’s about music as a retreat from reality: a collection of transitory moments which we can fill with our own memories in order to connect with the memories of others. Whilst Paracosm isn’t a true concept album – its narrative isn’t already set or defined – it moves with such a steady flow and with such consistent imagery that you just can’t help getting caught up in its technicolour web.

Washed Out’s ‘Paracosm’ is in stores now.

Watch: Washed Out – Don’t Give Up