“Eyes Be Closed”
Washed Out, alias Ernest Greene, peeked around the corner for the first time in 2009. At the time, he was just one of the many young bedroom producers who were unlucky enough to lose their regular jobs. He decided to spend the endless hours of dead time in a studio, writing songs. Then came “Life Of Leisure EP”, which made him one of the spearheads of the then emerging chillwave movement. Months and years have gone by. Other artists of his generation - Toro Y Moi, Memory Tapes and Small Black - released their debut albums ages ago. The sub-genre is arguably already breathing its dying breath. Now the American is taking his turn, with “Within And Without” - but has he delivered in time or is it already too late?
Firstly, Ernest Greene is to be praised for his track selection. Of the nine on this album, we had previously only heard one - the delicious “You And I” - and it’s not exactly one of his most famous compositions. Considering that many bands don’t hesitate to include previously released tracks on their debut LPs, it’s wonderful to be able to listen to this album without pre-conceptions. Furthermore, the inclusion of the track in question doesn’t seem capricious - it’s a collaboration with Caroline Polachek (Chairlift). In a sense, this suggests the possibility that Washed Out has opened up to the world on this record: he’s no longer simply the elusive producer associated with the chillwave scene. He’s no longer the youngster who uses samples of classic Italo tracks, like Gary Low’s “I Want You”. He now has a whole team behind him, including Ben Allen (producer of masterpieces such as Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavillion” and Deerhunter’s “Halcyon Digest”). Allen’s influence is probably responsible for the sound being more expansive. It’s not only synthesisers now; there are loads of other instruments, such as drums, violins, pianos and xylophones. It all sounds much more organic - particularly on tracks like “Soft”- as rich in textures as Caribou on “Swim”. But don’t fear, the old Greene is still clearly around – for example on tracks such as “Within And Without” and “Before”.
We know it’s a cliché, but “Within And Without” is the perfect soundtrack for the summer. Best of all - it’s released right when the sun is burning our skin. From the first track, “Eyes Be Closed”, we can imagine ourselves diving into the turquoise waters of some faraway, idyllic beach. It’s got a Balearic feel to it that’s intoxicating - if they told us it was from the soundtrack of “The Beach”, we would believe them. Here, Greene takes elements from Orbital and Angelo Badalementi’s “Beached”, Underworld’s “8 Ball” and even Moby’s “Porcelain” while giving the track a certain air of crystalline shoegaze, in the vein of Chapterhouse. And the same goes for the later tracks, including “Amor Fati”: beach chair electronica.
Washed Out continues with the Balearic sound on “Before”, a song we could place alongside the works of Air France and jj. But he also leaves his nineties influences aside sometimes, to transport us to the previous decade. On “Echoes” for example - a piece that will work better on the dancefloor than in you hammock – which features a vaporous vocal line. The same goes for the closing track - “A Dedication” - here Greene emerges as a great vocalist. Another gem is “Far Away”, with some violins that will send chills down anyone’s spine. It’s close to the emotional/ambient techno of artists like The Field, Superpitcher and Ulrich Schnauss. “Within And Without” is a delicate album, exciting, even hedonistic (check the sleeve art featuring a photo taken from an article in Cosmopolitan about the best sex positions). It’s your perfect companion for those torrid nights, with or without company.
Álvaro García Montoliu