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"Within and Without"

Washed Out – Within and Without
08 July 2011, 11:40 Written by Matthew Britton

It’s bizarre. If you’re reading this review, it’s fair to say that – given this is a music website – you probably think that Ernest Greene is a pretty big thing, or you at least acknowledge his presence and importance in music at the moment. Indeed, if you’ve spent any time tracking new music online in the last couple of years, it’s unimaginable that you’ve not stumbled across the man’s work before, or the indelible footprint that it’s placed upon almost everything to come afterwards. But to the billions of people that don’t waste hours reading about emerging artists that won’t get anywhere, does the name Washed Out actually mean anything at all?

Washed Out will always be linked to the genre that, more than anyone else, it helped nurture. After dabbling with various different names (blogpop and glo-fi being amongst the many contenders), the masses finally set upon the Hipster Runoff coined ‘chillwave’. And once a movement has got a definitive name and aesthetic, it’s only a matter of minutes until everyone starts to declare that the scene is dead, which is what has been happening for the last 18 months or so.

Dubstep fans might be familiar with the premise. After seeing thousands of wannabes jumping on the bandwagon, regurgitating sounds they barely understand and the number of naysayers swell, they’ve finally seen the genre crossover of late – given enough of a push, your Mum could probably define what the genre entails, if only through the parameters of a Katy B song she heard once whilst driving.

And so, the cycle continues. Bandcamp and Soundcloud are both awash with youngsters trying to mimic the glowing, sun-bleached vibes that they’ve seen blogged about, diluting the quality and turning a genuinely exciting genre into somewhat of a laughing stock, many of the founders abandon it and move on and the swarms of haters descend – in the eyes of some, the chillwave style is already dead and buried, consigned to modern musical history’s vast rubbish bin.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it isn’t, given the amount of history that he’s managed to chalk up already, but Within and Without is Washed Out’s debut full-length. Whilst it certainly feels like the tricky second album, the 9 tracks sound like they’ve had the weight of history taken into consideration during their creation. In the space of 40 minutes, Greene manages to weave new, rich layers into a tapestry that had begun to look threadbare, cranking it up to a level that imitators could’ve never had the imagination to reach for.

The two benchmarks come at either end of the record. ‘Eyes Be Closed’ can lay claim to being the finest piece of work in its canon, focusing more than ever on those big Balearic beats that always lurked in the corners of Greene’s work. More than anything it’s a statement of intent, that whilst others may have wilted in the face of such intense online scrutiny, this is a man who knows his own mind and unashamedly knows the type of music that he wants to create. If the music that blogs push has before been criticised for being too insular and obtuse, ‘Eyes Be Closed’ manages to keep all those elitist edges whilst becoming infinitely more accessible.

And then there’s the closer. ‘A Dedication’ is largely made up of a simple piano loop and Greene’s trademark, bruised vocals – a hipper pastiche of the kind of stuff Perfume Genius got people so weepy about not long ago. It’s affected and haunting – both being sonic aspects that hang more heavily throughout this album, particularly in the cold ‘Far Away’ – and acts as a perfect epilogue to the increasingly human tracks that precede it. In cultural terms, this is the kind of thing you’ll likely be watching soundtrack someone’s funeral on Gossip Girl, or some other relevant US drama in years to come.

Elsewhere, away from those two mountainous peaks, Greene doesn’t come across quite so masterly, but he still treads water better than the sum total of all his rivals, proving there is still a recipe for well-meaning hipsters to create meaningful, jaded dance music, but that he alone seems to know it. Above all, it’s the sound of a musician who has grown where the genre he helped foster hasn’t quite managed to – instead of matching developments of their contemporaries, tracks like ‘Echoes’ and ‘Amor Fati’ cast a shadow over them, if only through the sheer gloss of their production.

Whilst others have jumped ship to make proper albums away from such a derogatory tag – Toro y Moi, we’re looking at you – and even more have drowned in the seas of hype that surrounded them, Washed Out has proven that the sound still has some mileage left in it yet. The sad thing must be that Ernest Greene is perhaps the only man doing anything to purposely push it forward and develop its themes beyond being the ultimate music meme. Maybe one day chillwave will be more than blog-famous – but at the minute it seems as though it’s one man doing all the work.

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