Within and Without
(Sub Pop Records)
The genre Chillwave doesn’t adequately contain Washed Out’s debut studio album, Within and Without, not least because the appellation was coined half-mockingly, by a blogger named Carles, on the website Hipster Runoff. The diversity of tone in Within and Without transcends any flimsy definition. From its outset, the listener is aware, not just of a creeping melancholy that haunts several tracks on this album, but also, that this is a record created through consummate attention to detail, and – above all – delightful originality.
Structurally, most of the songs on Within and Without are based on simple 3 or 4-beat loops. Beyond this, there is a dazzling combination of samples, synths, and vocals that derive from an artist who is a long way adrift of strictures dictated by any scarcely coherent genre, Chillwave not least among them. It’s worth pausing to consider vocalist Ernest Greene’s voice. So lacking in audial clarity are his lyrics, it is very difficult to decipher even the briefest sequence of words. But this all ties in to the vortex-like draw of their yearning attractiveness. Greene’s singing is a fine example of why technical distinction is not the sole criterion for a beautiful voice.
One of the outstanding features of Within and Without is the chunky, emphatic groove of its beats. It should be hard to dance to music that relies heavily on ambient samples, but here it’s occasionally compulsive. The album’s stand-out tracks are a summary of its different moods. “Amor Fati” is a fizzing Roman candle of synthesizer scales. It would scarcely be out of place at a pre-pubescent disco, even with incongruously languid Greene vocals. The record’s concluding song, “A Dedication,” is a tightly produced, brilliantly effective study of nostalgia. But the album’s stellar piece is “Before.” Trumpet-like chord play makes this song a clarion call to better things – not just for the listener – but to a musician who has produced a debut album of exceptional quality.