Washed Out - Within and Without
Record Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Few of last year's releases were as auspicious (and aptly titled) as Washed Out's EP Life of Leisure, a fittingly laid-back six-pack of tunes that announced Georgia's Ernest Greene's presence on the A-list of bedroom producers. His brand of synth-pop-- "chillwave," the kids are calling it-- intrigued with its hypnotizing aura but truly succeeded on the strength of its subtly beguiling melodies. On Within and Without, we find Greene playing very much the same game in terms of style, which in itself is enough to classify it as a successful debut full-length, and yet it lacks ever so slightly in the sly hook department, enough so to call it a mild disappointment as a follow-up to Life of Leisure.
"Eyes Be Closed" kicks off the set, and it's a fitting harbinger of what's to come, what with its glistening electronic washes and vocals so reverb-heavy and low in the mix that Greene's lyrics are mostly unintelligible with the occasional vague line slipping through the haze. Which sort of highlights the fact that, more than anything else, Washed Out make mood music whose lyrics often seem like a vehicle to carry Greene's mesmerizing voice, an essential element to the atmosphere, though when discernible, they do seem to accentuate the overarching sense of well-being. On "Amor Fati", one of the album's more memorable cuts, Greene sings, "Know that you'll be right in time," and "Your faith decides the world you're going to find," which in accordance with the music's overall vibe seem to implore the listener to let go of nagging worries and just feel good, if only for the next forty minutes.
A track like "Echoes" highlights where Within and Without comes up just a little short of expectations. Greene's trademark half-dazed sense of calm on the track is no surprise, but what's missing are the nuanced melodic turns that made Life of Leisure such a stunner. Similarly, on (the also appropriately named) "Soft", the spectral arrangement and drone-y vocals might be enough to push the unsuspecting listener from a state of zoned-out bliss to one of peaceful slumber.
The album's second-half veers a bit with "Before", whose samples and slightly eerie air are reminiscent of Phantogram's take on downtempo, though a bit less percussive. Also standing apart from its fellow album cuts is "You and I", which almost sounds like a sex jam, complete with some sultry female whispers courtesy of Charlift's Caroline Polachek. Not that there isn't an innate sensuality behind all of Within and Without's songs, as rhythm-based as they are-- it's just that "You and I" is one of the rare moments capable of inspiring someone to take action.
An album's geniality hardly seems like a fair object of criticism. To say that something is nice is generally considered a positive thing, and so it is with Within and Without as well. However, Greene has already proven he has the ability to be truly exciting and seems to have fallen victim to improved production capacity. The resulting songs sway in and out pleasantly, but are too often as easy on the brain as they are the ears.
Yeah this album is great but I agree it's not that hooky. I like it when I'm listening to it but then when I'm done I kinda forgot what I listened to. I don't know maybe I just need to listen to it more, maybe it's a grower. I do love this band to death though.