August 13, 2013

Album Review: Washed Out's Paracosm

There are some genres that were destined to fizzle out from the very moment someone in the blogospere branded a newfangled gimmicky titled on them, and chillwave will easily go down as one of the past decade's best examples. The sound of deliberately under-produced pop built around lo-fidelity breezy '80s synths and gauzy vocals more or less opened the doors for any kid with a laptop and a copy of ProTools installed on it to start cutting tracks right out of their bedroom or dorm, but before all of them could figure out the formula, you have to at least recognize the accidental scene's originators in the likes of Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile's Ducktails project, Neon Indian and its ultimate pin-up, Washed Out mastermind Ernest Greene. With their blueprints for easy-going indie pop made on the cheap having been imitated to the point of making the sound identity-less at this point, chillwave's trailblazers have splintered off into their own directions of more traditional guitar-based indie rock, electronic and psychedelic pop, securing them enough longevity to become trend survivalists. For his second act within a proper studio setting, Washed Out's latest Paracosm states a good case as to why Greene won't just be some flash in the pan of page hits by proving himself as a multi-instrumentalist fully capable of curating mood music that's just as enjoyable even without a goofy label looming over its head.

Greene’s Paracosm is based on the idea of imaginary worlds, which -- considering him being a native of Georgia -- isn’t a concept too far-fetched from his early material that saw him creating hazy endless summer vibes best fit for the sandy beaches of an island coast rather than the soggy deep south. By re-teaming once more with producer Ben Allen, whose work behind the boards also includes recent efforts by Animal Collective and Deerhunter, the duo focuses Washed Out’s sanguine textures and vapory atmospherics beyond just one physical place in the world, leaving it up to the listener to decipher their surroundings. Of course, Greene provides enough sonic clues to help guide the way from the LP's very start, beginning with the instrumental intro "Entrance," which flutters in a field of buzzy insects and chirpy wildlife before segueing into Paracosm's most straight-forward doubling of guitar-jangled jams "It All Feels Right" and "Don't Give Up," whose bonging percussive, dreamy lurch and background crowd chatter easily places you somewhere between terrestrial voyeurism and looking down at the crowd from the clouds. Paracosm ultimately sides with leaving those earthly delights behind as it transcends the atmosphere with "All I Know"'s airy synths or densely filtering itself through outer galasy prisms on "Weightless," but it's also the point on the album where the crests begin to peter out earlier with each subsequent listen as Greene's fronting position waders behind the waves ("Great Escape," the title track and "All Over Now.")

Greene’s efforts to escape his trendsetting past politely assimilate Washed Out into other familiar territories of the general cosmic pop landscape where Panda Bear, Tame Impala, and Youth Lagoon might have a better grip on this kind of fantastic journey, but Paracosm’s sensory-inducing listen still gets its highs from the emotional gravity that made the chillwave breakout more so a way of experiencing music rather than playing it. Attaching simple, to-the-point lyrics to these songs is something Greene admits came last in the recording process, and until he puts that part of the equation on the same pillar of importance as the soundscapes he crafts, his limitations compared to his fully realized contemporaries will continue to reveal their faults under the sun. These are forgivable for now, however, as Paracosm’s imaginative worlds still provide a satisfying auditory outlet to get lost in even if Washed Out hasn’t mapped out its return plans just yet.

Washed Out's Paracosm is available now on Sub Pop Records.

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