Contrary to a mind-blowing surprise, Ernest Greene has made analbum stuffed to the brim with pop songs, all shrouded in reverb, allcarrying a message of escapism and all ridiculously catchy.
Of course, it could have panned out differently. Ever since hisemergence a couple of years back under the Washed Out moniker,Greene has been associated with the “chillwave” tag. At first it wasof pleasantry; he was at the helm of a music genre that was positivelybeaming; so fresh and new – everybody wanted a piece of it. Now, theword is treated like a burning mound of rubber. Nobody wants to beseen within a mile of it. Artists previously pigeonholed and shackledby the term have broken out to release material that’s more in linewith ’80s pop; funk; anything but chillwave, essentially.
Greene, onthe other hand, has bided his time and teased a loyal audience withmini-releases and MP3s for them to feast on. Instead of shying away orexploding apart the “chillwave” term by exploring a plethora ofalternate routes, he’s begun to rejoice in it all. This is plain tohear on Within And Without.
Opener Eyes Be Closed sets a precedent; warm and luscious synthkeys glowing from the surface, surrounded by layer upon layer ofindecipherable vocals and drum-machine percussion. Like a more refinedversion of Washed Out’s early material – Feel It All Around and Belong– the whole piece is free, unleashed but ultimately tangible. It worksbecause people can put this on and lose their grip of reality, go toanother place entirely. The whole album benefits from a cinematic feeland a sense of escape. Lyrics aren’t lyrics in the strictest sense –instead, they act like instructions on Amor Fati; cries of “relax”,“slow down” spelling out the purpose of the album to the listener:“you’re being offered an experience here, so let go, reach out andgrab what you’re being granted”.
To make eight carbon copies of the opening track however would befoolish, and vaguely similar to what Greene ended up doing with hisLife Of Leisure EP. Instead of following one distinct and provenformula, these songs are produced in such a way that each piece has atleast one discernable attribute, be it a simple change of tack likethe strange siren of a violin’s cry to open Far Away or CarolinePolachek’s alien-like, hushed vocals that add substance to albumhighlight You And I.
The most notable and successful of Greene’s attempts to put a slanton things arrives as the album closes with A Dedication. For the veryfirst time, we’re a hair’s breadth away from the man. No longer is heshielded by a wall of skittering synthetics; here, he’s only left witha piano by his side and we’re exposed to the ins and outs of hisvocals. Gradually, it builds and is backed up by searing hornsand a Person Pitch-esque burst of keys. All the same, it is withoutdoubt the most thought-out and rehearsed work on the record. Many ofthe songs here feel like momentary bursts of euphoria rather thanwell-calculated pop songs and in many ways, they work for that reason.But this unanticipated contrast, placed right at the tail of thebeast, works wonders.
Many dues need to be paid to Ben Allen, the album’s producer andthe man behind many other albums that were equally capable ofcollapsing under their own weight of hype (Merriweather Post Pavilion,Halcyon Digest). Those behind Within And Without have understood therisks of basking in “chillwave”’’s welcoming rays. They’ve succeededin making an album that does well to second-guess its listener, whilstnever disowning the sound that first brought Greene to the foreground.“Chillwave” might be dead and buried, but Washed Out has only just setfoot in the water.