It’s hard to say if the term “chillwave” actually means anything. In the age of countless one-person bands with oceans on their MySpaces, the term’s been applied to just about anybody chipping away at a hazy, nostalgic bedroom style, a style that appeared easy enough to replicate, received a ton of attention fast, has helped create dozens of forgettable dorm-recordists. Thing is, even the most creatively bankrupt or deadlocked aesthetics usually include rare birds, musicians able to move beyond common denominators and create something personal, even exciting. As far as “chillwave” goes, even if you’re not a fan, it’s been Toro Y Moi and Neon Indian. Now, after two promising EPs and the enjoyable Within And Without, Washed Out, aka Atlanta-based Ernest Greene, is also taking things to a different level.
From the in-focus boots-knocking cover art onward, Greene’s full-length debut finds the multi-instrumentalist offering a more mature, refined (and defined) sensibility. The nine songs were recorded with Ben Allen, who co-produced Merriweather Post Pavillion, Halcyon Digest, and St. Elsewhere, creating a bigger, spacious sound — without losing the rickety, homegrown “haze.”
You’ve heard “You And I,” the sexy, Caroline Polachek-guesting piece that flows/feels like “older” “Feel It All Around”-style Washed Out (only bigger). More recently Sub Pop unveiled “Eyes Be Closed,” the psychedelic pop whirl that opens the album with the sonic equivalent of a summer breeze. Outside of closer “A Dedication,” a song that showcases a new angle for Greene, the rest of the album feels a bit shadowier, but just as warm. “Eyes Be Closed” fades into the darker “Echoes,” which makes good use of ’80s ballad sound effects and an after-hours neon-colored vibe (for some reason, “You Belong To The City” comes mind). The next track, “Amor Fati,” evokes the opener’s easy, Caribou-esque feel. From there, the collection maintains a similar, gauzy haze, one that easily lulls and bleeds together, but also provides a steady atmospheric hum that helps highlight or shine a light on even the subtlest shifts: The bigger Kraut-funk drums and AM-radio fuzz of “Soft,” “Far Away”’s slower, bleaker pace, the stately phased pitch/sampled vocal repetitions of “Before,” the title track’s M83-sorta instrumental arc paired with almost whispered vocals, and etc. It’s like finding your way along a patchwork quilt via the different textures of the fabrics; the stitches match but lead you toward different patterns.
Which brings us back to that closer, the brief piano-manned “A Dedication.” Here, Greene showcases a straight-up singer-songwriter side, one where his voice rises above the effects and din, suggesting he’d be able to strip away the production and create a collection of a different sort. The guy can actually sing! Even without that exclamation, though, Greene’s proven he has more in common with Caribou’s Dan Snaith or Bradford Cox than with those faceless kids armed with boomboxes, imitation LSD, and cheap-sounding synths. Kudos.
Within And Without is out 7/12 via Sub Pop