Review: Washed Out ‘Within and Without’

Ernest Greene returns with some more electronic shoegaze.

Review: Washed Out 'Within and Without'

It was rather amazing how quickly the whole chillwave absurdity spread across the land by way certain blogs regarding the sound of Neon Indian and Toro y Moi and a dozen other bands.  It displayed an almost willful ignorance of the sound.  Whether it was intended or not by the artists, the music was firmly rooted in the many bands that popped up in the wake of Boards of Canada’s nostalgic and hazy hymns, chief among them Casino vs. Japan (check out this music video for “Hush Hush” directed by Bradford Cox), Ulrich Schnauss, Limp, B. Fleischman, Manual, Syntaks, Freescha and Marumari (who I think is a huge influence on Neon Indian—whether he’s aware of this is another story).  

More recently, it had been Ghostly International artist Tycho carrying the sound into the later 2000’s as CvJ, Freescha and Marumari dropped off the face of the Earth.

The music was clearly influenced by shoegaze, hip-hop’s breakbeat, ambient and other offshoots of electronic music.  The labels were long established: Morr Music, Carpark, Darla, & City Centre Offices.  Hopefully, by this point, the hype around “chillwave” can be put to rest by examining the clear lineage of what Toro y Moi was doing, as well as Washed Out.  In a sense, the recent fleet of electronic shoegazers started adding Kevin Shields and Neil Halstead-inspired vocals where Boards of Canada, for instance, only had vocal samples.  The other sonic details were synchronous.

Washed Out’s Ernest Greene continues some of his earlier electronic shoegaze explorations, but adds a few surprises to the mix, such as opening track “Eyes Be Closed” Underworld and Orb-ish synths.  It’s nice to see the early-to-mid ’90s electronic music getting a little love.  When Greene starts to sing it reminds one of Chapterhouse, which is refreshing.

“Echoes” adopts some of the micro-sample tendencies of the Field but filled out with a more pronounced beat and Greene’s airy vocals.  On “Amor Fati” it’s more Chapterhouse meets Underworld circa “8 Ball.”  (No complaint here, as the world needs more Underworld as far as I’m concerned.)  Greene delivers a sublimely beautiful melody on “Soft,” which conjures the sounds of the Field again, but with a little Ulrich Schnauss as well.  Where Greene sets himself apart here though is in the hypnotic quality of his voice, which—lacquered in reverb—takes on the quality of an instrument itself, weaving in and out of the mix.

Greene adds some violin to the song “Far Away,” which isn’t exactly a remarkable song, but Washed Out at its most unimpressive is still better than most.  In fact, it will probably appeal to many listeners’ tastes and senses—it’s just that the song’s brand of melancholy is perhaps a bit too pronounced, especially with the violin’s inclusion.

“Before” is a nice experiment in genre, as it includes a hip-hop beat and vocal sample, Greene’s singing, Schnaussian atmospherics and a guitar that recalls all that was memorable about the Dreampop of the late ’80s.  Washed Out isn’t breaking the mold here, but he is indeed creating something beautiful.  Track 7 “You and I” is another instance where Washed Out’s talent is clear but sort of too safe in its exploration, when you want him to let the synths rip and unexpected things to happen as Schnauss did on “In All the Wrong Places” around 5:00.

“Within and Without” gives an idea of what Boards of Canada might sound like if Slowdive’s vocalists had been able to collaborate with the boys of the Pentland Hills, but Washed Out’s most interesting work might be closing track “A Dedication.”  The song begins with a piano line until a voice drops that must be Greene’s, but it has much more dimension than previously revealed.  When the synths come in, Greene reveals himself to be a brilliant sound designer, keeping things spare to create a better release and then letting them ride out the rest of the song.

“Within and Without” is a solid album and debut for Sub Pop, and reveals Greene to be quite adept at washes of sound.  One hopes that on his next album he explores more upbeat and chaotic textures as well as somber and spare numbers like “A Dedication.”