Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, pulled off one of the surprises of 2011 with his debut album, Within And Without, despite being pigeonholed early in his career as part of the chillwave movement. The genre, which was applied to bands relying on a heavy use of synths and processed vocals, was mocked in some quarters. In reality, chillwave was just a throwaway description of music that did far more than it suggested.
On a superficial level, Washed Out’s debut LP was very much suited to the chillwave tag. There were synths galore, layers of distorted vocals and meandering hooks – everything associated with the genre – but Within And Without also featured a number of irresistibly catchy pop tracks. The attention to detail was almost as enticing as the synths and, while the album had a certain cinematic atmosphere, it never sounded too polished.
Two years on and the Georgia-based producer is back with his second album under the Washed Out moniker, Paracosm, a term that describes a detailed imaginary world. It’s clear from the off that Greene could not have chosen a more appropriate title for Washed Out’s return. Opener Entrance is a short sample at barely over a minute, but with the natural sound of chirping birds and lush instrumentation, it sounds like Greene is soundtracking a Disney film.
The dreamy, cinematic opener evolves straight into the first proper track It All Feels Right, which sees Greene’s distorted vocal layered on top of a myriad of instruments, including reverberating synths and a simply strummed acoustic guitar. While it lacks the instant impact of Amor Fati or Eyes Be Closed, the song has a warmth that was often missing from Within And Without. The beautiful All I Know confirms the evolution of Washed Out, with an almost anthemic direction bursting through the soaring synths.
While there is more of an emphasis on continuation and cohesion on Paracosm, Greene retains the ability to create catchy tracks that rely on looped arrangements and seductive beats to draw the listener in. Don’t Give Up is one such moment, with a sense of nostalgia evoked through the song’s swirling synths and repetitive checkered beat, as Greene sings: “Even though that we’re far apart we’ve come so close and it feels so right/ Don’t give up.”
As with Within And Without, Paracosm takes more than one listen to really sink in, but once its hazy, expansive ambiance hooks you, it is difficult to escape – and more importantly, you won’t want to. The slow-burning Great Escape is an example of the perseverance sometimes required, with the wandering synths and sporadic beat only coming alive in the second half of the song as it builds towards its dreamy crescendo.
There are some weaker efforts during Paracosm’s running time, with Weightless and Falling Back not quite hitting the mark, but the album saves its best moment till last. The mesmerising All Over Now finishes the album off perfectly, with Greene making use of a constant, looping beat, while the woozy synth line does the rest of the work. It’s an emotive final track, pulling at the heartstrings as Greene repeatedly sings “It’s all over now”.
Although the original premise behind Paracosm sounded rather safe and uninspiring, the end result suggests that idea of transporting the listener to another place provided Greene with the chance to really experiment with his sound. The core elements that made Washed Out’s first album a success are still present, but they are amplified and taken to entirely new places. Overall, Paracosm is an impressive return from an artist who is still learning his trade.