Ernest Greene’s sophomore album is punk in the sense that it ranks high in self-inflicted neuroticism. If punk was a reaction to the introspective singer/songwriter vibes of the cooled-off hippie generation, Paracosm is a reaction to the musical and cultural occurrences of the 21st century. Punk was a call for a new tone. Paracosm seems to be one too.
Like other chillwavers, Panda Bear, Memory Tapes, and Neon Indian, Washed Out is a chill pill for the Xanax generation. After paying for college loans, worrying about affording organic tomatoes, and realizing the phone I bought two years ago might as well be a fossil, maybe all I want to hear are lyrics like “The feeling when it all works out.” Washed Out is here to remind us that the world isn’t crashing into the sun yet.
By definition, a paracosm is an intricately extensive fantasy world usually imagined by children. In his Paracosm, Greene puts us in a mindset that’s probably outside our norm—and he does it with no subtly and no hesitation. The album’s opener, “Entrance,” begins with silence as sounds of birds chirping and a tentative xylophone slowly become audible. This moment is like opening the wardrobe to discover Narnia. After the cheeky harp flourish at the close of “Entrance,” the album levels off into a cascading plateau of sound that producer Ben H. Allen helped landscape while Greene navigates with his breathy vocals.
Even though tracks like “Weightless” sound like the go-to bedroom records of The Cocteau Twins or My Bloody Valentine buzzed on pina coladas, it’s different from the strung out evening pop that was Greene’s debut, Within And Without. Where his first record was an album of after-dinner desire, Paracosm is a “rubbing the sleep from your eyes” piece. The chirping birds sampled throughout the album may have something to do with this sentiment, but Paracosm also has Greene toying with instrumentation in a way we haven’t yet seen.
Over fifty different instruments went into the album’s curation. That’s a lot more than a synth and a laptop. What makes Paracosm unique from Greene’s previous endeavors is that Paracosm is like the voice of John in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, asking for balance in a world inundated by the synthetic. It gives us a little breathing room from all the heavy drops and synth-pop without totally giving the technological age the slip. Plus, the album art would make a pretty sick pattern for a shirt.