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Washed Out - Paracosm

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Artist: Washed Out

Album: Paracosm

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Aug. 13, 2013

Washed Out - “It All Feels Right”

The name, Washed Out, while so befitting the style and cool sophisticated vibe of earlier releases, was never intended to impede singer-songwriter-producer Ernest Greene’s approach to music or his creative process. As such, the self-employed librarian’s 2013 full-length release Paracosm will take some listeners by surprise. It presents quite a leap onto a new sonic path, and it’s not for everyone.

Life of Leisure and Within and Without, Greene’s two previous LPs, were both predominantly lo-fi, intimate and anthemic in their own ways, with several instantly approachable and memorable songs. Ready for it or not, Greene enjoyed an early surge of mainstream success and a flag-bearer role for the chillwave genre.

Washed Out’s bedroom dance tracks appeared to create this wonderful and enduring illusion that not a whole lot was going on. Turns out, that feeling was closer to fact than fiction; and now with several sold-out world tours behind him, the predictable constant seems to have spurred a weary Greene into bolder action and in quest of a historically recontextualized sound.

Instead of relying on convenient presets, Greene trekked up to Canada, source-seeking many of the rare instruments that served as a pre-echo of the chillwave sound and recorded Paracosm at the pro-analog, environmentally-crusading Tree Sound Studios. Consequently, one ought to listen thoughtfully. Familiar melodic elements may actually be a strange synth singing to tape for the first time in decades.

From the very first few drops of “Entrance,” the listener is invited to feel the naïve excitement of a live record, not knowing what comes next. Early tracks form a departure concept, and Greene really seems inspired by a journeyman-at-sea idea. Throughout the album, songs rise and crash, sometimes melding into one other through a devolution into city and jungle chaos. Listeners are left suspended in these carnivals of sorts almost to a breaking point, just as the beats of the next track crest to the rescue.

The cine-style strings and guitars in “It All Feels Right” harken back to the Magical Mystery Tour era, but by the time “All I Know” comes around, you’re in more familiar Washed Out territory. The full polyphonic array is all there with a layer or two ever so slightly off-key to add texture, and blurred vocals are a bit more confident in the mix. Toward the end of the album, “Falling Back” has all the folksy warmness of a John Phillips road trip. It would be an otherwise near-perfect penultimate track except for the near minute of safari trail-off.

For many petulant armchair musicologists (myself not necessarily included), 2013’s Paracosm‘s vibrant, new territory with that ‘touch of prog’ couldn’t come at a better time. Reviewers (perhaps only now) see Within and Without, Greene’s debut full album, as the work of a poltergeist from EPs past – labeling it a crunchy-granola blend of “every known variant of makeout music,” in Pitchfork, or songs for that surprisingly-fatal root canal in Allmusic. Sometimes reviewers cannot help but see an album but through the lens of its predecessors, but if the blasé seems warranted, Paracosm has exorcised that demon with reasonable success.

Though Washed Out came seemingly out of nowhere, one of its strongest allures was its comfort and maturity. As yet, I have not met a haunted fan, but I have spoken to those who just cannot jive with Paracosm. With all the lengthy troughs between tracks, avian 5.1 surround sound, and this new colorful electromagnetic direction, Greene may have set down the chillwave torch (for now) or lifted the concept out of the Nashville filter vibe entirely, challenging listeners to find truly spectacular elements in a concept album experience.

By Erin Leigh Zimman

Other Reviews of Washed Out

Within and Without

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