Glazed of eye and pure of heart, there are moments of magic within the blur on Within and Without.
There’s something lacklustre about Washed Out’s Within and Without, in the most complimentary way possible. Not that Ernest Greene’s debut album isn’t emotional, or doesn’t sound complete, because it is, and it does. It is lacklustre though, in the sense that Greene seems to have pulled his sleeves over his hands, and rubbed the sheen away from the surface of his songs. Taking elements of the understated, rough-around-the-edges chillwave sound Greene built for himself in his bedroom, Within and Without also takes a thoughtful step forward, treading on the swells of orchestras and bounces of airy beats.
The album has a numbed, half-attentive affect, providing songs to be listened to with glazed eyes, looking far into the distance. Seeming both to rush over you and away from you at the same time, the melodies are slippery and difficult to grasp, but precisely because of this, they feel sublime. Many of the songs sound like someone singing on the other side of a window; like classical music overheard on someone else’s earphones as you pass them in the street. Everything on Within and Without is a little bit muffled, and everything feels like a memory, re-discovered and slightly scuffed. Amongst this white-washed backdrop of sedated sound, the album’s outbursts of magic become thrilling.
Euphoric vocals soar on Amor Fati, set against its jumpy beats and handclaps, making it a flushed moment of ecstasy in an otherwise relaxed narrative. A Dedication, meanwhile, which closes the album, and sounds like a pianist playing in an empty room as the party dwindles away, brings a new clarity to the record so suddenly that it catches in the listener’s throat. Lyrics begin to crack through the surface, becoming tangible and fresh.
Although obviously more highly budgeted and carefully produced – the album was mixed by Ben Allen, who has also worked with Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley – than earlier Washed Out material, this album still seems, occasionally, trapped within the four walls of its humble beginnings. With a mind-set of longing and regret carrying the listener from song to song, there is no real game-changer, no real direction; rather, the experience of listening to Within and Without is one of being bounced along by water, of being unsure where you’re going or how long it will take, although you’re enjoying the scenery. Simple tricks, samples and loops are at first tantalising, but occasionally end up over-used. The cut-off voice used on Before is initially a perfect shock, embodying those moments when something needs to be said, but you don’t remember what it is. After a while, though, if the repetition is focussed on too intently, it can become grating. Better to lie back on your raft and watch the sky, forgetting about the water that is carrying you.
This album soundtracks summer afternoons when you’re alone and heady with nostalgia; it will bring your own memories out of you, will make them feel new again, and won’t interrupt you when you’re wholly immersed in those moments. Far from precise or analytical, this is music blurred at the edges, with songs seeping into one another; if you allow it, it will wash straight over you, and leave you feeling like you just woke up. Clean, bright, with a new realisation of the present.