Washed Out couldn’t be a better name for Ernest Greene’s specific brand of music. It feels spacey, weathered, and indeed, washed out. These are songs that are minimal and desolate, swirling shoegaze and lo-fi with chillwave and hip-hop loops to make something that feels simultaneously familiar and unique. Given enough time, this is an album that will swell up in most listeners ears, starting with its plain synth chords and ethereal vocals and ending with a startling symphonic luster.
The record opens with “Eyes Be Closed” around a whirlwind of repetitious echoes. For a few seconds it feels like a trance-ian open, but layered chords roll in and authoritarian vocals set course for something much more melodic and poppy. This is demonstrative of the album’s continual bait-and-switch with the listener, as electronic elements interchange with indie pop/rock staples often, and seamlessly. “Echoes” hints at Noah Lennox-like indie noise, but concise beats and another tightened melody keep things flowing. These first two cuts really highlight the added production values that Greene brought it for his first LP, primarily through the talented Ben Allen, who’s produced his share of similar blog-mongering indie bands (Animal Collective, Deerhunter).
Whereas Greene’s EPs teased this sort of voice but often crossed instrumental wires, Within & Without is a smooth and polished experience. Putting aside record continuity, there are some pretty stellar single cuts here as well. “Amor Fati” is one of the most gorgeous tracks you’ll hear all year. The melding of vocal harmonies and outer space syncopations is mesmerizing. “You And I” and “Far Away” balance the cool out with the melancholy, and “A Dedication” ends the set with a piano, more vocal synthetics and hefty percussion.
Where the album falls short is also coincidentally where it succeeds. This type of neatly constructed synthpop is done very well, but without deviation, and doesn’t seem to strike me as a one-size-fits-all album. This is a perfect nocturnal record, e.g. to the end of a long summer’s day, but it doesn’t really seem to be especially versatile. In that regard, what it does well it does very well and seems happy to leave it that way; brilliant, esoteric music.
There is little doubt in my mind that Washed Out’s debut will be remembered as one of the best of the year. What it lacks in variety shouldn’t be spurned due to what it offers within the scope of a largely accessible dream pop record. And it should excite fans to see the sort of young talent that continues to appear on the scene today, despite the industry’s crowded waiting room.