Bedroom producer rides the surf wave without the sunshine.
“Never judge a book by its cover,” my Mum always used to say. But what she didn’t mention was that the sound of an EP can sometimes be described perfectly by its cover art – which is the case with ‘Life of Leisure’ by Georgia-based, bedroom-producer Ernest Greene aka Washed Out. Hearing the synthetic strings of opener, Get Up, the purple-pastel image of a girl chin-deep in the ocean makes perfect sense. Greene’s melancholic crooning evokes isolation and there is solace in the simple bass as synths glimmer like dim light reflecting off of water. Greene is clearly yearning for escape (“Got to get up”//“Got to get away”). He is trapped in the here and now but his mind is drifting far, far, over there somewhere – “far out,” I suppose you could say.
‘Life of Leisure’ comes at a time when lo-fi, surf-rock is latest thing to undergo a rush of resurgence. 2009 has already seen the likes of Girls, Best Coast, Pearl Harbour and Real Estate provide a modern take of the surf-rock movement of the 60s. While they basked in the summer sun by day and bummed around the campfire strumming guitars by moonlight (well, something like that anyway), we were landed with a sound that some cringingly dubbed ‘chillwave’. Once we had Real Estate chirping away with Beach Comber, Best Coast combining ‘Surf’s Up’ with the Ronnettes on a blown out amp and then Girls – basically a sun-drenched Babyshambles – we had the soundtrack to our summer.
So where does Washed Out fit in? Well, it is surf-pop without the sunshine. Greene is clearly – like his moniker – washed out. Rather than digging up Good Vibrations, the summer has wound down, the sun has gone and it has left nothing more than a nostalgic memory of adolescent youth – something captured by its unerring indulgence in 80s synth-pop. The starry-eyed echoing of New Theory is not quite Enya, but more like Enya heard from within a fish tank. It is lush but not gratuitous; carefully crafted pop music consciously refraining from ever reaching full flight.
Though, it is not only shoegaze set against a scenic backdrop. Feel It All Around is like the disco of Gary Low played at three-quarter speed – a slow dance at a wedding experienced within a languid dream. And Lately – the danciest tune on the EP – leaves you slurring at the bar, flirting with Cassius. Everything that Washed Out does is through wistful eyes; even the most obvious references to 80s pop – Peter Gabriel, The Human League, Kraftwerk – are muddied by time or a longing for past experience. That is not to say it isn’t uplifting. It still offers that fanciful sense of wonderment that 80s pop does best. (8)