Two summers ago, a young man named Ernest Greene moved back to his parents’ home in a peach grove in Perry, Georgia after obtaining a few college degrees, including both Bachelors and Masters in the field of library sciences. At 26 years old and unemployed, he spent the summer looking for jobs, e-mailing resumes to employers, and trying to save money for his wedding at the time of a falling economy. However, nighttime was a different story. When his parents were asleep, Ernest would stay up in his bedroom, making beautifully lo-fi ambient pop tracks with uplifting lyrics that were directed at trying to keep himself positive in hard times. He had been making tracks on his own for years, as well as having collaborated with others (including the popular Chaz Bundwick a.k.a. Toro Y Moi), but had always considered it a hobby. He posted the tracks on his MySpace, and wasn’t expecting any kind of popularity. No publicity, no record deals, nothing. However, in the following weeks, something extraordinary happened. Blogs started to pick up on Ernest’s woozy dance music, unofficial music videos of his tracks showing the uttermost perfect summer days began to circulate, the labels Mexican Summer and Mirror Universe Tapes released his first two EPs, and he had begun to perform live at venues, both solo and with backing band Small Black. He was even proclaimed to be one of the leading artists in the hugely debated chillwave genre, whose artists make psychedelic ambient dance-pop songs with a huge 80s influence. However, since 2010, nothing much had been heard about Washed Out. He still performed live, but as far as any news of more EPs or even an album, nothing had been said. That all changed earlier this year, when it was announced that Ernest had been signed to the hugely successful label Sub Pop, and that his debut album, “Within and Without”, would be released in July, smack dab in the middle of one of the hottest months of the year. It was also revealed that the album had been recorded with Ben H. Allen, who had also recorded Deerhunter’s “Halcyon Digest”, Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, and Gnarls Barkley’s “St. Elsewhere”. Suddenly, Washed Out’s debut album became the most anticipated album of the year. Singles became released, as well as one short teaser featuring scenes that seem to be influenced directly by David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”. How a humble Georgia guy who recorded in his bedroom for years turned into one of the biggest artists in recent years is certainly a surreal story, but it happened and now, Ernest happily has a job: making music and touring it in front of thousands of fans. However, his debut album, “Within and Without”, even with all of his success and popularity, still stays true to the music that started it all. There’s more instrumentation and complex arrangements, as well as a polished studio quality to the tracks instead of the lo-fi bedroom sound of his earlier tracks, but in spite of all of this, Ernest’s soft and beautiful vocal harmonies, the chilled atmospherics, the 80s style basses and synths, as well as the dance beats are no different than what we’ve heard before. They’re just merely enhanced. If you’re looking for the best album of the summer, Washed Out’s “Within and Without” will make you stop to look any further. It’s just that good.
The album begins with “Eyes Be Closed”, which is also the first single that was released from the album. It begins with huge, echoing synths and a smooth beat before exploding into warm basslines and complex ambient instrumentation filling every corner of the mix. Ernest’s vocal harmonies here are about as beautiful as always, perhaps even more than we’ve previously known them to be before. Tropical percussion and a sort of African atmosphere also seems to be present here, which only gives the song even more of that perfect summer sound. It is pretty much one of the best songs I’ve ever heard an album start out with. The next track, “Echoes”, contrasts with the light, uplifting atmosphere of the first track with dark synthesizer harmonies, huge dance beats, strange percussion samples, and almost unintelligible vocal harmonies, furthermore filled in a sort of dark reverb. However, it still fits in with the aesthetic of most of Ernest’s tracks, and still emerges as having that perfect summer mood. “Amor Fati” is pretty much a track that I could imagine being played at the beach. The uplifting atmosphere, the beautiful vocal harmonies, the smooth dance beats, and the 80s influence in the rhythmic, almost tropical-like synths and the moving basslines just work well during a gleaming and blazing hot summer day. It’s just perfect. “Soft” is about as ambient as it gets on this album. The psychedelic shoegazy pads that open it up is incredible, along with the reverberated vocal harmonies, the smooth bassline, and the highly energized beats that continue throughout the track. However, as energized as it gets, the song is still pretty chill and relaxing. The warped synth introduction of “Far Away” definitely shows that as polished as this album is, a bit of that lo-fi bedroom sound is still present in the mix. There is also, for the first time in Washed Out’s tracks, some beautiful xylophone and string melodies. It almost reminds me of some of Radiohead’s works, perhaps from either “In Rainbows” or “OK Computer”. Nevertheless, it is still a beautiful track, and certainly just makes the atmosphere even more chilled. “Before” begins with ambient synths and distant percussion before heading into a sort of hip-hop influenced beat, along with more of Ernest’s soft vocal harmonies. Hip-hop has influenced Ernest’s compositions in some way, and on this track, it’s no exception, even with as beautifully chill as the track is. “You and I” is a track that was released last year by Adult Swim, which also features Caroline Polachek of Chairlift contributing some vocals. However, Ernest remixed the song for this album, giving it a clearer studio quality in comparison to the lo-fi production that the track initially had. Nevertheless, this version of the song is just as dreamy and vague as the original, with its hip-hop beats, dub/reggae-like bassline, and of course, the ambient synths and the beautiful vocals. Also, it is nice to note that this version is longer than the original. It just means more to enjoy of Washed Out’s style. The title track “Within and Without” begins with downtempo beats, a smooth bassline, and what sounds to be the synths from “Amor Fati” slowed down a bit for this track. There is also a piano sample running throughout the track, along with Ernest’s very soft and emotional vocals. The end of the track also features some dreamy arpeggios, which was also previously heard in the teaser video for the album. The last track, “A Dedication”, begins with simply a warped piano melody along with Ernest’s spacious vocals, which proves that he can actually sing. There are also some beautiful vocal harmonies in the mix at times, along with this ambient stab that seems to intrude at times, giving the track more of that hip-hop influence. A beat does come in, but it never interferes with the introspective atmosphere that Ernest creates in this track. The track overall proves to be the perfect ending to this unfortunately only 40 minute long album.
Washed Out’s “Within and Without” is pretty much the best album of the summer. It’s chilled out atmosphere is the perfect contrast to a hot and humid day. It’s perfect listening for when you’re at the beach, riding around town in the car, laying by the poolside, or perhaps just to listen to while inside cooling off. It also proves to be at the same time a dance album that is meant for the clubs, and on big speakers, in terms of the deep basslines and highly energized beats, though it’s not exactly the kind of album you would expect to hear on the dancefloor. Ernest’s soft and beautiful vocal harmonies are fabulous on this album, the arrangement of ambient sounds and samples proves that Ernest is quite a great composer, and the production is spot on and polished, though some fans may wish that the lo-fi bedroom sound of Ernest’s past two EPs were still present on this album. I only have one complaint about this album: I wish it were longer! However, for a debut album, this is not that much of a problem. Just the fact that it’s a new Washed Out album, there are brand new tracks (with the exception of “You and I”) that each have their own distinctive quality and are pretty much all great throughout, and that it is released during the hottest time of the year is good enough for me. Highly recommended listening.
Album: Within and Without
Artist: Washed Out
Genre: Alternative pop/ambient/”chillwave” (if you think it’s a real genre)
Released in 2011 by Sub Pop
Available now at all major retailers!