Ya know, I’m gonna be honest: up until I just looked up Washed Out on Wikipedia, I’d always thought it was a BAND and not just one dude making electronica music, like say Four Tet (in that way a deceiving name of its own). Ultimately, of course, this shouldn’t, and doesn’t, change my opinion of it as a musical entity — if anything I find it really refreshing because I’ve sort of got away from listening to electronica these days, living in a town smaller than my hometown and not really getting too psyched about this one Four Tet SONG we just got. Like, how hard can it be to put a whole album together of this stuff?
Well, that’s where we hit a halt: because Washed Out is making astonishingly complex music these days, steeped in hip-hop beats and sampling but still grounded in a pop “chill,” somewhat like a more stoned, spaced out and less virile Cut Copy (thank God for that). All the while, Georgia native Ernest Green’s vocals remain vague, foggy and inscrutable, and as anybody knows who’s ever been sparked into repulsion by looking at some lyric liner notes, this can actually be a good thing.
So is this music “mellow”? Check. Truth in advertising. Can it play in bars? Without question. Does it get boring? Not even close — Greene saturates the mix with an insane bevy of spliced or distorted background vocals as well as a commendable mix of sonic TEXTURES including on “Floating by,” a warped, barely audible, but percussive, piano, which sounds a bit like if Stravinsky had lived throughout the 20th century and come to eventually channel his inner Duke Ellington. “I’ve Been Dreaming My Whole Life” is a rather brief near-instrumental which features a mysterious German-sounding voice-over, almost as if Greene proves his charmingly juvenile claim by very way of unrelated sonic pulp — the pointlessness of the precociously light-hearted sound bite bespeaks in itself an element of unimportance in the apparent rudiments of the present.
“Instant Calm” comes off the heels of a one-minute drone session “Down and Out” and robustly obliterates any worries that this album will slip into monotony — the beat is slowed way down from most of the other songs and more fu**ed than ever, coming with various balancing ploys, sporadic “scratch” sounds and, importantly, some serious kick and snare lo-fi torque. That Greene made this track only two minutes long when it exemplifies such chops definitely indicates that this dude is into making full albums, something very refreshing in this day and age of singles.
“Get Lost” is the result of a sound which I think is a fu**ed-up piano given a full, hearty and grainy texture, and for all its value for again shaking up the monotony, this time with some persistent rhythm and thick melodic timbre, Greene’s limitations as a vocalist start to make themselves apparent here, and this track would have definitely benefited from some of those Massive Attack singers chiming in in the background. Greene’s whine, for all its pliable “mellowness,” can at times tend toward the emotionally blank and forced — although the background music is anything but forced.
Album closeur “Million Miles Away” harks back very much to the glory days of Washed Out (sorry, I go a little “glory days” crazy on this blog sometimes), with copious, ethereal quick-sounds of cut synth climbing up to the ceiling of the soundscape in the background and back down with incessantness, belying the slow, lazy disposition of Greene’s cool vocals and easy trip-hop production. This is an album to get lost in — turn your cell phone off while putting it on and if you happen to spark up some of that wacky tobacky stuff by way of some unexplainable devil force controlling you, you might end up wanting to spin this puppy a second time, once it’s over.