Washed Out, Within and Without
There is nothing new under the sun. The circular, self-consuming nature of musical inspiration has renewed the heavy synths, minimalistic vocals, and ornately layered sound of the early ’80s. Despite a myriad of names (neo-wave, chillwave, nu-gaze, etc.), the style and sound are all too familiar, and the amount of music emerging from the revival of this genre is a bit overwhelming. Bands like Texas’ own Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi have cornered the market, leaving little room for yet another act.
Even still, Georgia’s Ernest Greene, a.k.a. Washed Out, has attempted to create something brilliant in order to stand out. Despite a name that evokes faded and colorless sentiments, Greene has managed to make his mark in the chillwave world with his fantastic full-length debut, Within and Without.
Within and Without is a deceptively simple album. Tracks generally consist of only a handful of distinct sounds repeating the same two- or three-measure phrase. In terms of vocals, Greene doesn’t offer much, and if his live performances are any indication, he’s a pretty poor vocalist. Within and Without achieves a balance, however, that very few albums can claim.
Nothing, not the instrumentation nor the vocals, dominates the structure of a song. The combination of shimmering synths and a regimented drum machine are entirely unremarkable — not once is there an overly effusive drum roll or intricate keyboard arrangement. Vocals seem to be intentionally pale and poorly enunciated in order to give space to the most subtle of sounds: a chirp at the beginning of each measure, or an indistinguishable spoken phrase. It seems unlikely that anything on Within and Without would be of any real musical or emotional value, yet songs like “Soft” and “Before” are simply divine.
By being so remarkably simple and subtle, Within and Without allows the listener to dictate their reaction to each song. For some, there is a slow, reflective quality to “You and I.” Others find might experience the weightless release achieved at the end of “A Dedication,” and yet others still can find warmth in “Amor Fati.” Whatever the case, each listener is given the opportunity to participate and uniquely experience Within and Without. It’s this emotional connection that lifts Within and Without beyond an album that listeners understand to be great, to an album that listeners believe to be great.
Within and Without is really a case of less being more. It takes a bit of genius to create such a stirring album free of complex musical structures or tawdry sentiment. Yet on his debut LP, Greene has created something that most spend a life time trying to perfect: a passionate and graceful album.
(Feature photo by Will Govus.)