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Washed Out

Within and Without

Rating: 2.6/5.0

Label: Sub Pop

Like most of the material Washed Out releases, Within and Without is mostly a body high; nothing even comes close to breaching what is confrontational or cerebral, lyrically, dynamically or otherwise. Ernest Greene continues the swagger of hip-hop-informed electronica while maintaining the infinite idealism of chillwave, and does it just in time for the season of music festivals and popsicles. This time, though, on his dutifully ambitious accord, Greene worked with producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion) to record his non-sourced work. Washed Out’s very own compositions span across two parts. Both are glued together by Greene’s sticky positivism, a prevailing optimism shaped by innocuous looping bass lines and dorm party drum bumps that always overcomes hints of heartbreak or moodiness.

The first part of Within and Without is exactly what you want if you didn’t get enough from the Life of Leisure EP. The playful decadence picks up right where the EP left off, jumping off the docks of summer during sunset into wet indulgences. The wavy single and album opener “Eyes Be Closed” is relentless, evoking the start-stop dreamy euphoria that Moby used to be able to create during the early days, before the commercial success of Play. “Echoes” is a closed-fist floor-stomper. It catches the insouciant breeze of synthpop, but this time imitating sample-like hooks of sourced material instead of implementing them directly. It’s clear Greene is not ready to give up his dance sensibilities yet. There’s too much fun to be had, it seems. Just when you think the beat is going to let up, he lays it on thicker with itchy syncopation. The buzzed-in-the-afternoon thumping just won’t let you sit down.

Within and Without has a polished, studio quality to it. You get the sense that Greene is no longer experimenting and that he’s doing exactly what he wants to do and perhaps what he always wanted to do. Not only has he undoubtedly moved away from nuanced lo-fi recordings like “Belong” or “Olivia” but the pure magnificence of “You’ll See It” that once made him something of a bedroom producing mage is also never reached on “Within and Without.”

Greene’s vocal mix is more direct at times on Within and Without. The falsetto on “You and I” and the double tracking of a cleaner voice versus the reverberated moan on the title-track attempt to deviate. Ultimately, pitch controlled by the thickness of delay and reverb, the hopeful intonations of Greene establishes the personality of Washed Out as more detached and dissociative than ever, making the whole experience less intense. He finds safety within the insular mode of vocal expression developed by electronica, emphasizing ambiance over temperament.

“Soft” and “Far Away” are examples of why Washed Out is so popular. When you listen to Washed Out, it makes you feel good, even when the song is tinged with melodic sadness. The passing sorrow of “Soft” and “Far Away” make you feel like you belong. The distant cries of Greene paired with soft, relaxed rhythms make your already relative pain universal. The second half of the album drops somewhere between the despondent whispers of “Far Away” and the dragging gleam of “Before,” as if to provide for some legitimate emotional sense of balance.

The quiet lamentation of a piano uncovers more of Washed Out’s new emotional terrain on the closer, “A Dedication.” Greene appears here longing, wallowing and affected, but only briefly and only as a goodbye until next time. The only thing seriously painful about Within and Without, though, is the degree to which it mostly baits a return to early material.

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