I haven’t heard the term ‘chillwave’ in a long time. This is probably a good thing. The abstract, HRO-christened faux-genre probably garnered jokes rather than think-piece worthy discourse, and given that the champions like the fresh faced Neon Indian, Memory Tapes and Toro y Moi ascended completely independently in different parts of the country, all that talk about a ‘scene’ seemed pretty silly. The guileless of them all might be Ernest “Washed Out” Greene. A native Georgian, he talks about his music with blue-collar, pop-minded simplicity; he doesn’t really know how to use a studio, producing came to him as a hobby, he’s married, and his debut album Within and Without carries on that almost accidental genius that defined his breakout Life of Leisure EP back in 2009. He’s still making the essence of chillwave, (sweaty, euphoria-bating, insatiably catchy electro-pop,) but now with a budget, a stage, and a few more tricks up his sleeve. He transcends any reductive tags his fame may have earned him, and sounds nearly flawless while he’s at it.
Greene has never been one for the traditional bangers; his best songs “You’ll See It” and the perennial “Feel it All Around” thrived on unparalleled beats. As such, Within and Without’s biggest successes are the songs that just glide. They don’t waste any time either; “Amor Fati” tips its hand within the first 5 seconds, revealing a strikingly gorgeous cascade of synth. Absolutely designed to move bodies on a beach party’s setting sun; Ernest folds in a few of his long, intangible croons before letting his sparkling instrumental blind out everything else. Like before, he uses his voice as an instrument, as percussion to the blatantly emphasized groove. This may turn off those of us tired of modern indie’s overshadowing crush on reverb, but for the identity of Washed Out, the fragmented sing-song seems right at place. On “Before” a beatific female voice drones an offbeat, wordless hook. Sure it’s obfuscated to the point of no return, but when considering how beautifully the mechanic works with the rest of the songwriting, those complaints sound rather obvious and nitpicky. Most of the inevitable backlash the record is bound to face will probably come from the fact that it’s not a sharp exodus from blog-pop’s sinking ship, but this brilliantly refined version of Washed Out tends to transcend that superficiality.
The identity of Within and Without stays primarily in the murky definitions of the chillwave aesthetic; symmetrical, mysterious songs that seem to bob gently along with the rhythm. They have no real beginning and no obvious end. Ernest seems to fade between his repertoire whenever he gets bored enough with the pulse he’s playing. For a man who cut his teeth on mp3s and extended-plays, his debut record is surprisingly melded. His buoyant, enchanting productions don’t offer much in microscopic detail, but when stacked together in such accordance, it morphs into one of the more rapturous experiences of the year. There’s precious little to be seriously analyzed, Greene never tries to outsmart himself, his straightforward, but ambiguous demeanor earns all critical attention organically. The two times he does stray, the opening hands-in-the-air anthem “Eyes Be Closed” and the piano-led rumination “A Dedication” are about as plain-dealt as a departure can get; for all the pretenses of the scrutiny Washed Out is under, the actual music is about as people-focused as possible.
In a sense Within and Without should be the debut we all expected. It is not a sea-change or a rehash, but a projection of a sound, and an idea, on to a much larger scale. This is probably the most natural evolution of what started back in the summer of 2009, since, well, the summer of 2009. In interviews Ernest Greene would talk about his search for what a Washed Out song ‘was’ and his fear of losing that happenstance charm which made his indelible early tracks so intoxicating. Now he’s managed to translate his cheerfully unique sense of song-craft onto a label’s worth of resources. He’s still making his music, no matter the variables and potential side-tracks. That’s about as positive of a result as the world could’ve imagined.