Washed Out - Paracosm

There’s no nice way to say this, but during a busier week, Paracosm, the second album from Washed Out, wouldn’t have gotten that Album Of The Week nod. During next Tuesday’s new-release avalanche (Earl Sweatshirt! Superchunk! No Age! A$AP Ferg!), it would’ve been immediately lost in the shuffle. And indeed, it seems almost expressly designed to get lost in the shuffle. This is intricately sculpted soft-pop music, music about drift and indecision, overloaded with harps and keyboard squiggles and bird noises, sung in the sort of voice that suggests the split-second when you wake up from an afternoon nap and you’re not yet sure where you are or what day it is. I don’t like it as much as Washed Out’s first album, the gorgeously memory-dazed 2011 synthpop makeout collection Within And Without. I don’t even like it as much as Life Of Leisure, the 2010 EP that more or less accidentally defined chillwave the same way the first Ramones album more or less accidentally defined punk. And yet Paracosm is a good album with a few great moments. And more important than that, it’s an album that defines a mood, or a moment.

Chillwave, of course, became an internet punchline the second it became a genre — or maybe even before then, since I remember thinking to myself, “Oh god, am I going to have to start using ’glo-fi’ now?” That’s just what happens now. A few artists play around with similar ideas and accidentally stumble their way into becoming an art movement, that movement gains a catchy/dumb name somewhere along the way, and then people start making fun of whatever gets that movement-name stamp. It happens all the time now: mumblecore, trap rave, vulgar auteurism, the golden age of television antiheroes. I’m guilty of teasing this stuff sometimes, and you probably are too. Chillwave remains the deepest and darkest example — a name that suggests both paralyzing nostalgia and paralyzing indolence. And it’s been fascinating to see what the people in the first wave of artists pegged with the name have done to distance themselves, to move on. Neon Indian has gone full-on glitch-glam. Toro Y Moi has turned toward breathy and idiosyncratic soul music. And both guys’ post-chillwave albums have been really good. Washed Out main man Ernest Greene, by contrast, doesn’t seem invested in moving on. If anything, he’s doubled down, and folded in another form of recently out-of-fashion music: The hazily tropical Balearic beach-music of continentals like El Guincho and Air France and jj and Studio. He’s moved past chillwave by making something even chiller, and so maybe he deserves respect for sticking to his sleepy, sleepy guns.

In his MySpace piece about Paracosm, my young colleague Brandon Soderberg posits the intriguing idea that this music isn’t as dopey and directionless as its detractors might suggest — that it actually shows a logical response from a generation with no real prospects and nothing to do but float along from paycheck to paycheck. I’m fascinated with that idea, and I’m not sure I agree with it, but I’m unreservedly behind Brandon on one point: This is music for relaxing, for sitting with beers and friends in back yards, and that’s a good thing. I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence that Paracosm is seeing release right when summer is at its draggy, muggy height, when some days the air feels too heavy to get out of bed. Paracosm is mood music specifically for those moments, and heard in the right light, it lazily spins and glitters in a way that fits the moment perfectly. Throw this on headphones when you’re attempting a death-trudge across a supermarket parking-lot on an oppressively hot afternoon, and you want to high-five yourself for being an amazing music supervisor on the movie about your own life — and that feeling is almost enough to carry you through the sliding doors. The problem, of course, is that when you hear the music in isolation, it stubbornly refuses to become anything more than mood music. Most of the time.

I mentioned above that Paracosm is a good album with a couple of great moments. Those great moments are the ones where the drifting stops, where everything snaps into focus. There are two of them, “All I Know” and “Falling Back.” Both are expertly executed synthpop songs. These songs that don’t skimp on the humid atmosphere of the other tracks, but they don’t use that atmosphere as a crutch, either. “All I Know” opens with a faraway keyboard drone and a tingling piano line, and then it suddenly blows open in an endorphin-rush of acoustic guitars and synthetic drums. Its lyrics are about seeing the face of the person you love and suddenly having something like a panic attack, about realizing that your feelings might be too much for you to actually contain. It kills me. “Falling Back” is different, a laid-back psychedelic sunshower like the starry-eyed tracks that the Chemical Brothers would put at the end of their albums, the ones where the block-rockin’ beat never quite dropped. But it, too, has clarity and structure underneath all the ripples and flutters. Most of Paracosm is mood music for when you’re already in a certain mental place, but these two songs are the ones that will put you in that place even if that’s not where you are — the ones that bring on the chill.

Paracosm is out now on Sub Pop.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Scott & Charlene’s Wedding’s lo-fi indie-pop ramble Any Port In A Storm.
• Bloc Party’s The Nextwave Sessions EP.

Comments (25)
  1. Good news everybody.

    I pre-ordered this LP last Monday and it was on my doorstep this past Saturday. Seems that Sup Pop remembers how to do pre-orders. It even came with a bonus 7″ containing “Pull You Down” / “Exit”, the latter being what I guess was supposed to be the minute and a half outro to compliment the intro “Entrance”.

    My favorite part of this album is how every song floats/drifts into the next. Cut Copy has done this incredibly well on their recent albums, so maybe when Washed Out toured with them they took a page from their book.

    Tom’s third paragraph hits on why I love this album so much. Two years ago “Within and Without” was the perfect soundtrack to summer. When I first heard “Paracosm” I was really happy to know he had crafted yet another great summer album.

    I’m pretty sure that anybody who has liked Washed Out before will have no problem with this album. I agree it’s nothing spectacular, but it serves its purpose incredibly well.

    • Oh sweet, I want that Pull You Down 7″! I got the vinyl last week too (a week ago today if we’re going to compare dicks for a sec) but was disappointed that song wasn’t on the album proper.

      Just kidding about the comparing part. Just thought it would be funny. Much love, RJC. Glad you like the album too.

    • nothing wrong with a lil healthy competition – GET OUT YOUR MAGNIFYING GLASSES FOR DONNY!

    • RJC!

      You probably wont see this, if not I will ask you next time I happen across a post of yours, please don’t think I am crazypants, but I remember having a conversation with you in one of these comment threads some time in the last year or so about The Field, and to this day I can count on 3 fingers the number of people I know who listen to The Field. And knowing your love for The Field, HOW PUMPED ARE YOU FOR THE NEW ALBUM??

      Given your long, thoughtful posts like the one above I want to hear your thoughts on the new direction its taking, how excited you are, etc.


        Let me see if I can dig up my tweet from when I saw p4k tweet the #blessed information…

        “AHHHHHH!!! SOMEONE HELP ME BREATHE!!!!” then I RT’d the post. Of course, when I SAW the post, my body jerked backwards in my chair. The chair then sprung into action and flung me forward again as an airy, “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” escaped my throat.

        Fairly similar to my reaction two years ago when he announced Looping State of Mind. Seriously though, this is the second time he’s announced a new album two months before it gets released. I am totally OK with this method, as it’s 2 for 2 on getting me to go batshit over a new album release.

        I mean, all I know about the new direction is what he said about it. I like the idea that it was a stream of conscious effort. Seems he didn’t spend too much time combing over the details. It felt like he must’ve done that on LSoM since it sounds so consistent all the way through.

        I have high hopes for this one because I feel like he hasn’t quite mastered his own album formula he set up on Yesterday & Today (when he decided to stick with longer songs and fewer tracks). I felt both Y&T and LSoM had about one weak track a piece (“Leave It” for the former and “Sweet Slow Baby” for the latter IMHO) so I think he is due for an album where every track is killer. Seeing that it’s back to a six song album format gives me hope. I’m highly doubting that the closing track “20 Seconds Of Affection” is going to only be 20 seconds… that would be a Field first. I imagine the 20 seconds refers to the loop’s time? Maybe.

        But if I were to only go off The Field’s remix of “Mind Mischief” as far as what direction he’s moving toward… then I have every right to be stoked out of my mind (accidental pun!) Because I listen to that Tame Impala remix on the regular.


        I really don’t understand why The Field doesn’t have more fans. Stereogum didn’t even see the need to post the album details, thus allowing me to freak out in a designated area. Remember when “From Here We Go Sublime” came out in 2007 mere DAYS after “Sound of Silver” and “Person Pitch” ?? What a great time to be a fan of music!! But The Field in particular was a discovery moment for me where I didn’t realize people could make music like that and for it to be so damned addicting. I felt like I had no other choice than to be a fan of The Field for the rest of my life after what that album did for me.

        One thing is for sure. Nobody can do what he does. That man knows his way around a loop.

        • I had a similar reaction! I work in a cubicle and did everything I could not to cause a commotion, but ended up leaping out of my chair in excitement.

          Yeah that Mind Mischief remix is amazing. I think it might be somewhat indicative of the direction he’s going in since he said that the new album will be more downtempo. Given that he has been so consistent in quality of output over the years I don’t think there is any reason to think this album will be any less than at least very good. I actually really liked “Sweet Slow Baby” off LSoM, but agree that “Leave It” is the weak track of Yesterday & Today. I didn’t come around to “Sweet Slow Baby” until I listened to it on vinyl, where it’s easier to pick up the subtle layering and progression of the song.

          And I’m with you on not understanding why The Field doesn’t have more fans. I really wish more people listened to him so he could get the credit he sorely deserves. I have spent a good amount of time trying to find other artists who have a similar sound and come up mostly empty. From Here We Go Sublime definitely was a game changer for me too, and I had the same reaction as you after playing it hundreds of times.

          Thanks for your input. It is always nice to hear from someone else who is as obsessed with The Field as me. Counting down the days until Cupid’s Head!

  2. Kind of a backhanded compliment of a review, I suppose.

    I had me a little marathon of this album yesterday and sunk into the thing. It definitely opens up with repeated listens, at least for me it did. Very layered and just plain beautiful. It’s mood music, sure. And, admittedly, I find myself wondering if this will have the same feel come winter time, but for now it is such a lush piece of goodness. Brings to mind some of Animal Collective’s more subtle moments, maybe even a little Tame Impala in parts as well.

    I am a little disappointed that the iTunes bonus track isn’t part of the album, as it is easily one of my favorites. I love the dub overtones on that sucka. At least you can buy it separate …think I’ll do that right now.

    • I’ve listened to it twice, hasn’t exactly grabbed me but I could see it opening up on future listens which I’m planning to give it. Also had a friend tell me it’s more of a headphone album. I’ve only heard it in my car…

      • Yeah my first listen was on headphones, but then I spun the vinyl a few times on repeat and let it just sink in. Definitely a headphones album to appreciate the textures, but played loud on the player was nice too. One of those albums that needs a chance in every setting. I still need a car listen.

  3. If every song on the album was as strong/memorable/on-point as ‘It All Feels Right’, I’d consider this a contender for AOTY. I’m not saying it isn’t a little cheesy/cliched, but I’m beyond caring about that kind of stuff. Sadly, the majority of the album all just runs together into a giant, completely forgettable blah. Great production though, and an admittedly ambitious effort. Better luck on the next one.

  4. Washed Out has to be the first artist to remain relevant for five years and two albums despite never putting out a song as good as their first break out single.

  5. I defintely liked this one more than Within/Without. Mainly because Greene is taking interesting turns with his songs, and while not entirely different from previous efforts in terms of songwriting, i really picked up a more interesting rhythmic approach.

  6. With or Without was a fantastic album. Paracosm isn’t nearly as hooky and I can definitely see how one would get the vibe how each of the tracks just sorta bleed into one another. Think Washed Out set out to accomplish that, I think. These guys aren’t going to reinvent themselves with each release, but damn if their milky, drift sound doesn’t send you away for a few minutes.

  7. I won’t say I enjoyed this album as much as Within and Without, but that doesn’t mean it’s a poor record. Definitely more enjoyable after multiple listens. It feels like Ernest is touching on something a little deeper with this effort. Age seems to be a theme with this record. It recalls a different sort of nostalgia that Washed Out doesn’t usually envoke. Perhaps it’s sort of about the summers you can barely remember so half of said memories are longingly fabricated?

    The range of emotion he is able to express through his music has always been something that has drawn me to Washed Out. Definitely interested to see where he goes from here.

  8. Very right with All I Know being a highlight. Man, that song might be in my top five tracks this year.

  9. I really liked this album.

  10. This will be my AOTW next week, too, but then, I just love what Washed Out does.

  11. Gotta say Within and Without is one of my fave albums of all time (top 3 at least,) i never thought the music was just “headphone music” as some people may suggest. With Allen producing on both these lps its just as rewarding a listen intimitally as it is ambiently. I also think Paracosm is much more accessible than W&W.

    Awesome summer soaked music all around. Just remember to be patient with this guy. I remember Diplo saying something like “Washed Out could use some starch.” I think a lot of people (including Diplo) can learn from his patience in how he builds his songs. Glad to see its possible for someone waste deep in chillwave break the mold while still carrying the torch.

  12. There are a lot of great production ideas here, and it’s an enjoyable listen. I’ve always thought his vocals have been the worst aspect of his music, though. I think it’s the anemic delivery and unfortunately just unremarkable way the guy’s voice sounds that makes some songs sag a little too much.

    I don’t think there’s any substance to it, any critique of a lack of purpose in people’s lives. If anything it’s just a reflection of our hazy ideas of living and lack of politics, but I think it’s big goofy mistake to credit Greene for making some kind of critique like that—it’s just not there.

  13. This album is suprisingly good. It seems light weight, much like the Smith Westerns album, but on repeated listens it is a real grower. solid.

  14. I’m just on my second listen now. Very interesting album that demands a few more listens than just 2. I’m liking it, not just the songwriting but also the atmosphere created in each song.

    Side opinion: Brandon Soderberg should quit writing about hip hop and stick to this kinda stuff. He at least made some sort of thought-provoking, logical argument in the article you referred to.

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  16. I agree that there are two highlights on the album, but instead of Falling Back I think the other one besides All I Know is Don’t Give Up. The chorus + that in and out fading drone really gets me.

  17. I found your review to be very condescending and deeply flawed in the formation of its argument. The underlying assumption seems to be, in so many words, this: “People make fun of the cultural phenomenon of chillwave, even though it’s just a social construct of the media and in fact these artists weren’t attempting to belong to a subgenre. Since it’s been made fun of, the proper thing to do as a quote-unquote chillwave artist is to distance yourself from the genre and reinvent your sound, since, you know, who wants to be made fun of? Washed Out hasn’t done this, his new album shows no radical attempts at a new sound, therefore it’s poor because all critiques of chillwave, which doesn’t even really exist, are valid.”

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