Search The Line of Best Fit
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Washed Out – Paracosm
09 August 2013, 10:00 Written by Alex Cull

album-of-the-week-boxEight months in and 2013 already seems to be a great year for musical reinvention. We’ve seen many an artist pushing beyond the limitations of restrictive, niche sounds and finding fresher pastures for ploughing (oOoOO, Forest Swords), or others jettisoning their own self-imposed aesthetics for something just a little more groundbreaking (Youth Lagoon, Wild Nothing). Georgian ‘chillwave’ alumnus Ernest Greene continues this trend on Paracosm, his sophomore full-length under the Washed Out moniker, but perhaps that should come as no surprise. After all, a paracosm is defined as “a detailed imaginary – or fantasy – world”, and it’d be pretty hard to achieve that from within chillwave’s rather narrow profile.

No, instead Greene appears to be moving in a largely similar way to how Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers did with this year’s marvellous Wondrous Bughouse; that is to say he’s leaping headlong into glorious Technicolor, aided by a veritable phantasmagoria of sounds. In fact, he claims to have used over 50 (!) different instruments in the production of Paracosm, a tally that even Billy Corgan would envy. The question though is whether, given the musical arsenal at his fingertips, Greene can truly expel what most would consider a tired chillwave formula.

Truthfully, the answer lies somewhere in between. Proceedings start out promisingly enough as the rainforest birdcalls and koi pond percussion of introductory skit ‘Entrance’ are quickly consumed by the all-in mania of ‘It All Feels Right’. Driven by the sort of manipulated tape loop that would feel right at home on The Soft Bulletin (particularly ‘Race for the Prize’), it’s a kaleidoscopic explosion of sound, richly detailed and lavishly orchestrated; a million miles from the one-dimensional character of Greene’s first Washed Out full-length, 2011’s Within and Without.

Lyrically, however, it feels much closer. “Leaving heading eastbound, weekend’s almost here now. It’s getting warmer outside. It all feels right,” Greene declares in the record’s opening lines; escapist, celebratory sentiments that ran right through the core of its predecessor, albeit exuded in a typically sombre manner.

As Paracosm continues, Greene can at times appear stuck in stasis, undecided about whether to push forward into the great audible unknown or whether to play it safe. ‘Weightless’ with its airy, ringing synths and snail’s pace beats, could easily have featured on Within and Without, while the swathes of wave-crushed chords that circle through ‘All I Know’ were similarly deployed in younger, simpler guises on Within cuts, ‘Eyes Be Closed’ and ‘Amor Fati’.

Perhaps, though, it’s unfair to penalise Greene for songwriting similarities with his prior output. After all, Within and Without’s greatest failings weren’t its lack of earworm melodies or crystalline chord progessions; it was the repetitive use of formulaic textures and moods: something that’s been greatly rectified on Paracosm. Take, for instance the euphoric tsunamis of choruses that beat down through ‘Falling Back’ or the title track’s swooning backdrop of harp glissandos.

It’s these moments – the ones that find Greene unashamedly leaping into new sounds and ideas – that offer Paracosm’s greatest sense of excitement and achievement. Dexterously deployed and carefully cultivated, they offer the truest insight into what a paracosm should musically manifest itself as: a fantastical, playful creation, one that’s rife with romanticism and imagination. On these terms, Paracosm is – by and large – a success. At the very least, it’s an admirable first step into something far more profound.

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