#16. Washed Out - Within & Without
"WIthin & Without"
Washed Out’s breakout EP, which surfaced in March of 2010, was aptly titled Life of Leisure. That 2010 EP was light and easy to like. Tracks like “Feel It All Around” and “Hold Out” were lively and synthy while still managing to remain loose and sleepy. The album evoked relaxation – and yes – leisure.
It also helped that the infamous “chillwave”, which Washed Out, a.k.a. Ernest Greene, pretty much started, was the most happening musical genre back in March of 2010. So when Life of Leisure dropped, every scenester quit what they were doing and proceeded to actively pursue chilling out.
I have to say that when Life of Leisure came out, I actually very much liked a handful of tracks on it. However, I quickly got tired of Life of Leisure's repetitive lo-fi electronica, which caused this EP to quickly disappear from my radar. Life of Leisure was a good album, but it was never a particularly compelling one.
What was supposed to happen is that Washed Out, having had his brief moment in the “chillwave” sun, would soon disappear along with “chillwave” itself. But things didn’t quite pan out like that – in the summer of 2010, Ariel Pink put out one of the genre’s – and the year’s – best albums (Before Today), and this year Neon Indian followed up with Era Extraña, another outstanding “chillwave” album which was literally the first album out of our top 20 (sorry!).
Added to that list is Within & Without, Washed Out’s 2011 release. This first full-length album by Washed Out is much more mature and engaging than its predecessor EP. The album is less about leisure, and more about subtle, building tension. The opening track, “Echoes”, sets the mood. In that song beats and loops continue to layer on top of a basic synth line until, at about 30 seconds to go, the song gets to a point where everything that was introduced throughout the song is present at once. The resulting combination is truly beautiful, almost metaphysical, and the growth of the song towards that point is very organic. The whole thing is just effortless.
The title track, “Within & Without,” is the standout of the album. The piano-like melody which permeates that song is sad and melancholy. You can’t really tell what the lyrics are, but they sound downcast. The main hook is not far from Bon Iver’s latest. Instead of relaxing and falling asleep, Within & Without makes you want to stare and wonder. It is the soundtrack to the coldest of winters; the dark night of the soul. And with this album, Ernest Greene has made a big statement – “chillwave” or no “chillwave,” Washed Out is here to stay.