Washed Out: Within and Without Review (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on Within and Without by Washed Out.
Erica Krumm (Oaks, Wunky Zine)
This album is sleepy. Not boring, but ultra dream-like and relaxed. The pretty collection of synthy, pop songs on Within and Without are ultra eighties sounding, and swell collectively in an ever-expanding cloud of soft beats. The splayed out vocals are very beautiful, but do not stray much from song to song. This lack of variety is beneficial at times, as it gives the album a very concrete and consistent vibe. My favorite track is “Far Away.” When the chorus kicks into a pretty hot dance beat and the vocal harmonies align, it’s pure pleasure. This album is like this part of your sleep cycle: It’s morning, you are half awake enough to feel the sun coming in through the windows and a breeze flying through the room, but not awake enough to think straight or speak. You are aware of life but still half dreaming. Within and Without belongs in the genre, “Indie Leasure Pop,” which I just made up.
As it stands in 2011, I think the proverbial waves have all but broke on the “chillwave” movement. All we see now are the residual effects, an ebb and flow if you will, of one of the biggest subgenre trends of the past few years. For better or for worse, depending on who you ask, this is either tragic or the greatest thing to happen to independent music. I could fall in either category, really, because although I love and spin certain artists out of said genre, there are times when it seemed like every new band or single is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy – which is reason that led many to despise and degrade the genre as a whole.
Earnest Greene, the man behind Washed Out, was one of the first artists that came in with the initial flow of chillwave back in 2009. His take on the genre had him experimenting with sounds that we have heard 100x over now: bright beach bangers that at the same time had an isolated bedroom feel. With a few EPs under his belt, Greene has now dropped his first proper LP, Within and Without, and shows that he has more to offer and experiment with than the typical chillwave aesthetics. The nine-track album plays out like a trance-y headtrip, one that is fluid, soft, intimate and dreamy. All the signifiers are here: echo-y vocals, washes of reverbed synth chords, and Greene’s signature hip-hop influenced beats and right-on-the-money delivery. Unlike his earlier Life of Leisure EP, Within and Without is bigger and heftier. And that shift in sound is indebted to Greene’s move from bedroom to studio as well as the added production hands of Ben Allen, who helmed Merriweather Post Pavilion. You can sense that this is the music Greene meant to create all along.
Throughout the albums entirety, the songs flow seamlessly together and follow a general emotional flow and pattern. For the most part, his vocals are all but indiscernible from the music as he uses his lofty, stretched-out vocals to become part of the overall ambiance rather than the centerpiece of the songs, becoming an instrument of its own. In the end, these songs are more about feel than anything else. And above all else, they are buoyant, self-assured and absorbing. Between the intrinsic drum work on “Soft,” the memorizing woozy loop of “Before,” and the soft piano balladry of “A Dedication,” Greene has created his own brand of hazed-out melancholy.
Within and Without wasn’t necessarily the album I was anticipating from Washed Out, but it’s a solid listen. If anyone tells you they flat out hate the record, well, they are just a curmudgeon. There’s a lot to love and praise about the this record and I applaud Greene for his ability to craft a sound that is wholly his own without necessarily distancing himself from the movement he helped create.
I didn’t really expect to like Washed Out’s Within and Without considering I was largely ambivalent towards his most recent EP. I found myself largely pleasantly surprised by it though. While I don’t think there is much that is amazing about Ernest Greene’s chilled out orchestrations, they make a great soundtrack for when you want to chill out for awhile. Or maybe dance. Is this dance music? Sometimes it seems as though it is but for people who like to dance really slowly. Anyways, I liked “Amor Fati,” and “Eyes Closed” particularly (they remind me of Caribou), but on the flipside there are quite a few songs that also sounded to me like they were designed for kind of a boring video game. Maybe a game where you direct bicycle traffic in Japan or something like that.