Under Review: Washed Out – Within And Without

If the fact that Within And Without is the debut effort from Washed Out surprises you a little, you shouldn’t feel alone. Though Ernest Greene has only been releasing music since 2009, the name Washed Out sounds so instantly familiar to those steeped in the modern electronic music scene. Like his friend Chaz Bundick of Toro Y Moi, Greene’s music often eschews the inherently danceable qualities of electronic music in favor of more pensive sheets of sound. Within And Without is a masterful blend of rich atmospherics and hooky rhythms, but it’s Greene’s immersion in his music that is Washed Out’s most defining trait. It’s not just that Greene’s voice is often barely audible above his swaths of synthesized gauze; it’s how Greene treats the sounds on his album that makes him standout from the bedroom-recording multitudes. Greene’s strong ear for melody certainly doesn’t hurt, either, and the way in which the subtly catchy compositions unfold upon repeat listens is a further testament to his dedication.

Within And Without begins with “Eyes Be Closed” which, were it not for the success of “Feel It All Around” (from 2009’s Life Of Leisure EP), might be an easy choice for Washed Out’s most essential song. To go along with his hazy soundscapes, Greene’s lyrics are oblique and often distressing. The album’s title track is built around a single verse, repeated just enough times as Greene feels is necessary. “Hold tight, fire’s almost out/keep quiet, we’ll hold,” he sings, “Feels like the time to start/feel closer now.” Unlike with other songwriters, dissecting Greene’s lyrics doesn’t reveal too much about his own character aside from a desire to remain mysterious.

What Greene might lack in relatable lyrics he more than makes up for with his engaging manipulation of sounds both musical and concrète. A shimmering groove underscores early highlight “Amor Fati,” and the aforementioned “Eyes Be Closed” breaks itself up with punctuation from some hollow tribal drums. The middle section of Within And Without is both unassuming and stunning. “Far Away” chugs along, adding percussion flourishes along the way while the spacey “You And I” shows off Greene’s preferred unhurried pacing. With this album, Greene had achieved an important goal in his career. Washed Out’s debut bears the marks of a craftsman who knows exactly where he wants his recording project to take him.

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~ by E. on July 11, 2011.

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