by DAKIN ANDONE
When I first heard Washed Out, I was sitting on my parents’ couch scanning through channels and happened to stop on IFC, where I first saw Portlandia and heard its incredibly popular and celebrated theme song, “Feel It All Around.” I was immediately hooked and grabbed my phone to look up where it was from. My answer came in the form of Ernest Greene, who had released an EP entitled Life of Leisure earlier in the year under the moniker, Washed Out.
And “washed out” it was. The EP was doused in reverb, resulting in a shimmering soundtrack of foggy, muddied vocals and driving beats that caught my ears as something that was captivating and special. I kept my eye on Greene, hoping he would release something true to this genre (that he basically defined) known as chillwave. A year later, he gave us Within and Without, his first full length. There were certainly definitive and popular tracks on Greene’s new release but I was, admittedly, not as fond of it as I was of the EP that preceded it. However, this week I have the pleasure of reviewing his newest work, Paracosm--emphasis on “pleasure.”
I wasn’t the kind of guy who ran off to Panama City Beach for spring break when I was in high school, but if I was, I’d be listening to this album the whole time. When the album starts, you’re met with a dreamy, ambient soundscape, entitled “Entrance,” melodically driven by a single vibraphone accompanied by the chirping of birds. This first track seamlessly transitions into the next with the strum of a harp and you hear the simple sounds of a drum machine before you’re thrust into “It All Feels Right” in proper, with the crashing of a snare. The second track expands into a feel-good, hazy euphony of psychedelia, consisting of an arrangement of strings and the strum of an acoustic guitar which, together, reminds me of The Beatles met with a more modern sound. As Ernest’s reverby, unintelligible vocals join the ensemble, I recall that I’m listening to Washed Out but it’s apparent that he’s gotten more comfortable with the blending of synthesizers and “real” instrumentation.
Track three, “Don’t Give Up,” begins with the remnants of yells in a crowd, setting the song up for a beachy and tropical feel. Bass and percussion work together to put you on island time before you’re introduced to the chorus, where Greene combines his vocals with a catchy melody that puts you right at home on a Washed Out album.
On the seventh and title track, “Paracosm,” a tranquil and echoing harp glides over a subtle piano with a simple rhythm, slowly adding chords until the drums join alongside a funky bassline, giving the song its groove. After the chorus, electric and acoustic guitar are introduced, bringing with them a broader structure harmonically and rhythmically. The euphoric blend of the harp, drums, bass, and voice continue through the remainder of the song, glimmering and growing, returning to the psychedelic feel that we had on the single, “It All Feels Right.” It’s atmospheric, ethereal and, in my opinion, one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Paracosm concludes with “All Over Now” which, instrumentally, may be the simplest track in this collection of songs. The bassline is simple, as well as the drums and it’s truly the two of these that drive the entire song, accompanying Greene’s voice with nothing more than the glittering synth pads we’re so familiar with in Washed Out’s work. The song progresses gradually until it fades out, leaving you in silence. It’s not the most effective piece on Paracosm, but it’s a good ending to a wonderful album.
The only complaint I have is the variety that is lacking in terms of song structure. Nearly every song begins with a quiet growth of a few instruments until the rest of the ensemble joins in, creating the introduction. This carries through until the verse, when most of the instruments drop out and don’t return until the chorus and so forth. I didn’t feel like the songs grew throughout, almost as if we were given everything in the song from the very beginning. And while the instrumentation shows that Washed Out took strides and grew, I think the composition and array of sounds that were used throughout the record should’ve assisted in that. All that being said, overall, I’m thrilled with Paracosm and excited to see how it all translates into a live environment. It’s catchy, infectious, and groovy. It grabs your attention and can hold it for the album’s entirety. It’s a piece of art. I highly recommend it to any and all.
Washed Out will be playing at the Georgia Theatre in Athens on September 24th, with Haerts.