Album Review: Washed Out – ‘Within And Without’

Ernest Greene's first album proper lacks bite

Soon after the artwork for [a]Washed Out[/a]’s debut proper appeared online, someone noticed that the photo – two beautiful people fucking on rumpled bedsheets – was a stock shot also recently used in a Cosmopolitan article which asked “Is This The Most Satisfying Sex Position?”. To the untrained eye, it looked like bog standard Tuesday night missionary, but promised to “increase female orgasm by 56 per cent” (unlikely). It seemed an incongruous fit for Ernest Greene – there was nothing visceral about the woozy, caressing strains of his previous EPs – so suggested that ‘Within And Without’ might be different, Greene shaking free of his eternal dreaminess.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. ‘Amor Fati’ (‘Love Of Fate’), the title of one of the tracks here, was Nietzsche’s formula for human greatness: “…that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity”. The idea of living in a blissful moment forever is tempting, but the willful stasis and lack of imagination of ‘Within And Without’ makes like a clammy hangover to the Great Summers Of Chillwave (2009–2010). That’s not to say that Greene should be expected to change his modus operandi – there are definitely moments of tingling beauty within his cloudy palette. A nervous violin cries softly under ‘Far Away’, where loss floats palpably from Greene’s usually unintelligible, drowned vocal, offset by sparks of hope from sparingly used xylophone.

The production’s relatively brazen – unlike before, this material was written to play live, and each part bears a specific role. The shatter at the start of ‘Echoes’ heralds a slippery house-y wooze followed by fizzing percussion, as if to alleviate the dirge-like bleach through blocked pipes. Individually, certain tracks work like shots of liquid vitamin D laced with barbiturates – the beachy Harmonia vibe of ‘Eyes Be Closed’ is delicious – but the effect of nine incredibly samey, perpetually shuffling songs in a row is like having sunscreen massaged into your facial orifices while being forced to look at a stranger’s godawful holiday snaps.

‘Within And Without’ hangs oppressively, saved only by fleeting moments of clarity like the title track’s stabbing outro, or the jump-rope glitter that opens ‘Before’. It’s been written into oblivion that Washed Out’s “sunbleached bedroom jams” (next blogger to write that gets a turd in the post) conjure the sounds of “imagined teenage summers past”, and really, nothing’s changed.

But the wan haze of ‘Within And Without’ should be no-one’s idealised adolescence; it should be all about the unpredictable, hormone-drunk joy and the ripe, sweaty carnality of the cover. That shagging position might promise heaven in a hip movement, but it’s hard to see how it could work – just as it’s hard to grasp the allure of [a]Washed Out[/a]’s debut.

Laura Snapes

Oder a copy of Washed Out’s ‘Within And Without’ from Amazon