Washed Out-Within And Without

 About once a year or so journalists get a bug up their ass and declare that one certain genre of music is dead. It isn’t because musicians have stopped playing it, or because the music stopped being good, but because certain people have grown tired of it and moved on. This happens to rock and roll once a month, and then the magazine that declared it dead posts a story about how some new band from Luxembourg is going to save it.

I remind you of this trend becuase recently there have been a few articles out there declaring “chillwave” a dead form. Forget the fact that 2010 delivered some of the best music of its kind in years, it’s over. It’s an unfortunate thing, because sadly some people take serious the things they read in Rolling Stone or whatever magazine, instead of seeing that it’s just a ploy to sell more magazines, thus raising the rate of ad space. They make these ridiculous, sensationalist statements, and for the most part it seems like folk buy it, so more power to them.

But I’m here to tell you, “chillwave” is not dead. Not if Washed Out has anything to say about it (which they do, on their new album Within and Without).

First a brief history of my relationship with this sort of music. I was introduced to it one afternoon when I was having lunch with my wife and uncle in a New York pizza joint called Ovo (which I just learned closed in 2006). They were playing ambient music that I hadn’t heard before, and I asked the waitress what it was. She went and asked someone else, and returned with the answer Cafe del Mar. Well, as it turns out there are like 30 Cafe del Mar records. All of them with various artists like Moby and Bedrock (these are on the volume I bought, #7). At the time, the only one I had heard of was Moby and there was a remix of a song by Bush, so I knew that one as well. Otherwise it was entirely new to me and I really dug it. Unfortunately the ratio of GOOD “chillwave” to BAD is nowhere near 50/50. A lot of it sucks, and most of the stuff I consider to be “chill” isn’t really at all. Groups like Air were around before the movement started, so they shouldn’t count (but I do count them because I dig them so much). Anyway, last year Beach House came out with Teen Dream, and I guess it was so good that the powers that be decided “chillwave” could not take create anything to equal that, so it’s dead.

In walks Ernest Greene with his album under the name Washed Out, and all of a sudden people are saying, “Welllll, maybe one more.” This is the first full-length from Washed Out, and Ernest recently signed with Sub Pop if that means anything to you. So perhaps “chillwave” has found a second life, resurrected faster than Christ himself, with Within And Without.

The first few swings through the album, I loved it. There was something ethereal about the melody and beat that caused a kind of dream-like state as I listened. The vocals and lyrics almost exist just to form a background for the amazing music Greene has constructed. About a minute in to the first track, I was completely engrossed in the atmosphere. Once when I was debating the quality of that Beach House record I mentioned, my friend Jeff told me it was great for walking around the city after midnight (my response was: I never do that). I get what he meant, though. And I feel similarly about this album.

Even more than walking around the city after midnight, I find that this is a great record for sitting in your bedroom, alone or with company. The music just washes over you, and your mind is free to wander through the intricacies of synths and 80’s influence.

So, this morning on my way to work I was all set to give this record a whole-hearted recommendation. Then something strange happened…I put in my headphones, turned on the record, and three seconds in I had a strange revalation: This album sure sounds a helluva lot like Moon Safari. Particularly “Kelly Watch The Stars” and “La Femme d’Argent.” I’m all for paying homage, but Washed Out owes a LOT of its successes on cribbing from Air. They aren’t exact replicas, and Greene does a much better job of self-editing than Air ever did, which cuts out some of the meandering present on Moon Safari and makes Within And Without as solid as it is.

Really, I can’t blame Washed Out for taking some of the better aspects of one of the greatest albums to touch on “chillwave.” That would be like getting upset because The Rolling Stones stole from blues musicians from the US. If it weren’t for that, they would have been nothing. Same goes for Washed Out. Greene is just paying tribute and thanking those that came before. So, in spite of some minor quibbles, I do think you’d be doing yourself a favor by picking up Within And Without. You’d also do well to pick up Moon Safari.