Will Govus/Courtesy of the artist
Within and Without, Ernest Greene's first full-length album as Washed Out, comes out July 12.
Within and Without, Ernest Greene's first full-length album as Washed Out, comes out July 12. Will Govus/Courtesy of the artist
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During the recording of his first releases as Washed Out, Ernest Greene was on his own. Holed up in a bedroom of his parents' Georgia house, he began crafting the hazy electronica that soon defined his work under the Washed Out moniker. Although the tracks that came to make up his two 2009 EPs (Life of Leisure and High Times) are largely bright and sunny, they were unmistakably the work of a man in isolation.
Greene released his first work as Washed Out only a few months after creating the concept, so he didn't have many opportunities to play his material in a live setting before his records started to attract attention. Without much time to learn the nuances of playing in bigger spaces, Greene made the jump from tiny rooms to medium-sized rock venues and festivals, a transition that can be especially tricky for a one-man live show. But after nearly two years of touring, either on his own or with the like-minded New York group Small Black acting as his backing band, Greene's music now sounds unmistakably designed to be played live.
On Washed Out's first full-length album, Within and Without (out July 12), it's obvious from the echoing wall of synths in "Eyes Be Closed" that Greene is looking to fill big spaces with these songs. Live instruments also play a bigger role on Within and Without than on his previous work. The melancholy album centerpiece "Far Away" still rests on a backbone of simple, driving dance beats, but here, Greene shrouds his softly cooing vocals in chiming xylophones and mournful, rustic strings. Demonstrating that he's a skilled composer even without a synthesizer at his fingertips, "Far Away" might be the most unabashedly pretty song he's ever recorded.
For all of the leaps forward that Greene has taken on Within and Without, it's still unmistakably his work — all of the changes here are just iterations of his established sound. At the core of Washed Out is a push and pull between electronic dance music and pop music, between songs based on slowly shifting and building textures and those built on a more traditional verse-chorus-verse structure.
Greene is able to slip deftly from one sound to the other, thanks largely to his vocals. Although his range is limited, he possesses a thorough understanding of the roles the voice plays in each genre from which he pulls. The vocals in "Echoes" are as murky and treated as any other piece of the song; their role is to add texture rather than to provide a dominant melody — an approach widely used in the world of dance music. "Amor Fati" follows immediately afterward, and features a prominent vocal part with a clear (and catchy) chorus hook that's decidedly high up in the mix. Greene never makes these differences immediately obvious, though. With Washed Out, he seems content to just make people dance, oblivious to the strings he's busy pulling behind the curtain.