It’s been two years since bedroom producer Ernest Greene (better known by his stage name, Washed Out) and his loosely associated chillwave comrades inaugurated their blog-heralded genre in the summer of 2009. Greene became a symbol of sorts for the fledgling movement, recording his Life Of Leisure EP on the back porch of his parents’ rural Georgia home before attracting a respectable following on the strength of a standout track that got picked up as a TV theme song. These days, he’s up to bigger things, having signed to Sub Pop to record his first full-length at a proper studio.
Riding shotgun on Within And Without is producer Ben Allen, whose resume includes gems like Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest. In his hands, Washed Out’s production has been polished to a sheen, with beefed-up-sounding vocals and low-end percussion. But chillwave touchstones are alive and well on the record; tender, nostalgic vibes still emanate from each throwback synth pad and ethereal two-part harmony, and there’s still plenty of reverb to go around.
Probably too much, actually. Too often, Greene’s voice sounds wispy and indistinct, cropped out by echo effects and the album’s foggy aesthetic, making it sound… washed out. It’s a shame, because “A Dedication”—the album’s relatively stripped-down closing number—shows that, when you peel back some of the synths and reverb, the guy can really sing. As it were, though, Within And Without‘s heavy layering produces mixed results: Sometimes it’s an effective conduit for emotion (“Soft,” “You And I”), and sometimes it muddies up the sound, causing individual songs to fall just short of being memorable.
Which makes it pretty cool when a small production flourish finally cuts through the haze (e.g. the tambourine at the climax of “Eyes Be Closed,” the beat-four snare accents on “Echoes”). Within And Without doesn’t have enough of these moments to make it a classic, but it does have enough to make it a decent release, so far as debut records go. Chillwave itself might be cooling off, but Greene has picked an opportune moment to become an artist in his own right.