One would expect an electronic musician under the name Washed Out to bring a nostalgic, old-timey feel to the current bland spectrum of the electronic arts. Certainly, Georgia-native Ernest Greene, the man behind the moniker, started out that way – his previous EPs from 2009 and 2010 were soaked with the sun-drenched haziness of ’80s cassette tapes and new age technology, together creating a warped take on the burgeoning electronic movement. The music was dubbed “chillwave”, and Washed Out was appointed the founder, his combination of blissed out, lush sounds and heavier drums really unlike anything anyone had ever heard before.
But chillwave had to die. There wasn’t much else for it to do – it was hardly a genre so much as an aesthetic that combined quirky electronics with elements of indie rock and maybe some hip-hoppy drums. Maybe that’s why Greene’s first proper release, 2011’s Within and Without, was a slight shift into darker, slicker and more inwards-looking territory and away from the lo-fi, happy nostalgia of his previous songs from the Life Of Leisure and High Times EPs.
So Paracosm, the elaborately produced second full-length from Washed Out, wasn’t expected to carry on in the tradition of Greene’s humble nostalgic bedroom beginnings. He may have coined a cool sounding term with chillwave, but Greene is all about living in the now. Exquisite digital producing and over 50 instruments were used to create his lushest sounding work to date, using a combination of vintage and rare instruments, an array of synths and startingly for an electronic record, a good amount of acoustic guitars. That’s something that was new for him on this second foray into creating a cohesive album – actually playing instruments was favoured over digitally manipulating all of the sounds on the record, unlike his older songs.
But I guess I was expecting something more dynamic than an ultra-relaxing display of basically ambient music. Fully fleshed pop or dance songs are not what Washed Out usually does, save for a few hits. Nonetheless, it’s beautifully performed and arranged ambience, with every instrument fluttering to make you feel like you really are living in a paracosm (which is a term for an imaginary world that people create to escape to). It was being marketed as a summertime-beach-day jam, but to me it’s more of a chill-out-in-your-room vibe, getting you ready to mellow out into a night’s blissful dream. It’s definitely a feat for Greene to produce and play this whole record, and the lush fullness of it will surely create many new fans as it certainly seems to be some of the best electronic music to exist these days.
The first single, ‘It All Feels Right’, is the strongest effort on the record, and also the most different from the others. With it’s psych-pop melodies and blissful opening harp accents that return to pepper the album with angelic hues, the positive song feels lighter and happier than anything on Within and Without, marking a change of heart for the young artist. It’s probably his best song to date, winning out against classics ‘Feel It All Around’ (which serves as the epic opening song to the TV show Portlandia), and ‘Amor Fati’ and ‘You and I’, the standouts of his last album. ‘It All Feels Right’ displays Greene’s most pop and rock song to date, complete with a heavy dosage of warm-sounding acoustic guitars. If he churns out one of these per album, I’ll be happy with the rest of the album being in a state of contented, dreamlike happiness floating around with 50 instruments making the world as believable as possible.
Other standouts are the title track ‘Paracosm’, which features a looping harp that sounds out of tune somehow, but is still so interesting to hear as it wobbles around trying to find that sweet spot. ‘Don’t Give Up’ boasts arguably the most catchy beat and vocal melody of the album, and is certainly the track that will get some people to get up and dance much more than any other track. ‘All I Know’ is an upbeat, enjoyable journey into the world which Greene is most familiar, and like most songs on Paracosm, is more recognizable after repeat listens. The intricate subtleties of being an earworm define this album, and after a few listens you can really start appreciating the magic that not being instantly catchy has on a well-thought out album.
It could be argued that this is a type of concept album, with the themes of imaginary worlds, escape, nature and realism dominating the lyrics, song titles and instrumental imagery. Greene’s washed-out vocals, which haven’t changed much since the beginning of Washed Out, serve as a hazy trademark on his unique sound, making it seem like he is half sleeping himself, lost in a dream world of his creation. It isn’t until the last two tracks – ‘Falling Back’ and ‘All Over Now’ – close out the album that make you believe that maybe this was in fact a dream; and yet, all dreams end, and even someone as immersed in them as Greene has to face that reality sooner or later.
This is the imaginary world of Washed Out, the one he created in his wide open studio facing a large window to a beautiful, lush garden. That’s probably where he got the early morning bird-chirping sample that is heard throughout the album and on the opening track ‘Entrance’, serving as an inspiration to the calming effects of nature, trees and flowers, much like the floral print that graces the beautifully designed album cover. Nature is a strong theme here, overarching into every element of the album art, marketing and natural feel. Paracosm is a brilliantly glistening and relaxed album, and if you take it for what it is, it delightfully serves its purpose. Lush imagery, instrumentation and positive vibes define this stage of the artist Ernest Greene, and in the modern landscape of electronic or any genre of music, it’s hard to find someone that does it with such finesse.
For more on Washed Out, visit their website. And be sure to watch the music videos for ‘Don’t Give Up’ and ‘It All Feels Right’, as well as some short ‘Making Of’ docs, below!
Making of. . . . Paracosm: