While Washed Out showed an impressive promise with its early EPs, the debut album ‘Within and Without’ fell flat in comparison, a fairly average ambient release which, while charming, lacked any memorable qualities. With ‘Paracosm,’ improvements have been made, standing confidently alongside LPs by chillwave peers, and while it not be the best product of the mini-movement (that probably goes to Neon Indian’s ‘Psychic Chasms) or even the most progressive (that would be Toro Y Moi’s ‘Underneath The Pine’), it certainly has its merits, and at its core, is just a pleasant album to listen to if you want something that encapsulates the relaxed feeling of a good summer. Group mastermind Ernest Greene deftly incorporates retro vibes like shoegaze, house, and Aphex Twin’s brighter faire along with the innovation of contemporary electronica, balancing nostalgia and modernism quite well. The incorporation of both old-school Mellotron with live drums & guitar and other instruments further illustrates the adept synchronicity with which Greene approached the album. It is clear that Washed Out has weighed its options carefully, considering the possibility of being relegated to the dustbin of chillwave’s brief history, or being laughed off for reacting too strongly against such a notion, and dismissing both outcomes by keeping its musical composure while not trying to take any of it too seriously, in the face of simply chilling out in the sun.
As hinted to above, the instrumentation is lush. The live instruments really help in propelling the groove by adding a crispness you couldn’t achieve with a drum machine. On “It All Feels Right,” the rhythm section is an active force in moving the music rather than occupying a supporting role, and when coupled with the dreamy vocals and dynamic guitar strumming, it makes the listener feel a part of the music, rather than the music being a part of the listener’s environment, as is ambient music’s typical MO. The vintage instruments lend to the dreaminess, filling out songs like “Weightless” with kind of quaint familiarity, inviting the listener into the world Greene creates. Sampling of harps and violins touch “It All Feels Right” and “All I Know” with welcome embellishment and splashes of color. “Don’t Give Up’s” swirling synths and groovy beat is the most danceable track on the album, at the same time being firmly underpinned by a mood indie dream pop. In all, not much can be said about the strengths of this album, because really it’s the simple pleasures that make this album what it really is. Some sweet symphonic interjections, reverb-laden vocals about relaxing good times about it all feeling right, invigorating beats, and you’ve got a recipe for a highly enjoyable, feel-good summer album.
Dispelling the cynicism which simultaneously creates and destroys chillwave, Washed Out is all about bliss. It’s not a shot of life for electronic music, but rather an affirmation of it, because even albums that aren’t setting out to be big statements manage, there are moments like these that show you can make a difference without making a big deal out of it. There’s no need to jump to musical extremes, nor grand artistic ones, especially when you can do such a stellar job of making the most of what you know.
Recommended Tracks: It All Feels Right, Weightless, Great Escape