Washed Out – ‘Purple Noon’ review: mopey ‘80s-inspired pop (minus the compelling melodrama)

Earnest Greene's tropically-tinged fourth record purports to be about passion, but lacks the emotional intensity that that billing suggests

To this day, most people still think of Washed Out as the sweet prince of chillwave. It was a simpler time, the end of the ’00s, and Earnest Greene’s sun-kissed anthem ‘Feel It All Around’ (later adopted as the theme tune for Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s hipster parody Portlandia) perhaps summed it up best. Faced with a hulking great recession, the indie kids pivoted en masse to a lackadaisical, plimsoll scuffing kind of synth-pop defined by beachy escapism and an obsession with nostalgic analogue sounds. If only we had known back then what horrors awaited in the following decade.

Washed Out has clung to chillwave ever since. Albums ‘Within and Without‘ and ‘Paracosm’, from 2011 and 2013, also rode on similarly half-audible vocals and lo-fi sounds. Greene’s 2017 record ‘Mister Mellow’, a visual album touching on burn-out culture and modern anxiety, experimented more with looser psychedelic touchstones, and occasional beats that bordered on hip-hop.

‘Mister Mellow’ was chillwave 2.0, trading in carefree frolics in the sand for an abundance of withering houseplants, waning economic prospects and a lifetime of extortionate tenancy fees ahead of it – and yet despite that, there was very little genuine peril on show. Greene’s music seemed increasingly interested in the lurking boredom that comes with the ‘Life of Leisure’ that he named his 2009 EP after.

‘Purple Noon’ is more loved-up and personal than these releases, but also comes from a similar sonic world. Lyrically, he play with the concept of time, and Greene constantly toying with how to make the most of what’s left. Opener ‘Too Late’ sets the scene and grasps onto the last fading embers of a perfect moment. Is it too late to fall in love tonight?” he wonders, as the sun rises. The remainder of the record appears to make sense of the impending fall-out. ‘Paralyzed’ charts an all-absorbing and addictive love affair atop low-octane Balearic flutters, while the dubby ‘Reckless Desires’ exudes an aching sense of longing. Time returns again and again under various guises, whether it’s wasted or clung onto.

How best to spend it is a question that is consistently returned to, with few answers. In ‘Purple Noon’s most searching moments, Greene ponders how things might have panned out with the ability to rewind time and try again; often he concludes that the eventual destruction is inevitable. “I just wanna go back start it all again / This time I’ll let you win,” he ventures on ‘Time To Walk Away’, concluding that “it’s probably just hopeless / This time.”

The hopelessness comes across clearly; what is lost, not so much. Sticking firmly to the artist’s emphasis on older analogue sounds, ‘Purple Noon’ doesn’t tread much new ground, though closer ‘Haunt’ channels the artful minimalism of The xx’s ‘Coexist’ and bursts with the warmth that this record misses elsewhere. Instead, most of ‘Purple Noon’ inhabits a very specific kind of moping ‘80s pop; the overcast power-ballad soundscapes of Tears for Fears or Duran Duran – but crucially – minus the sense of fun or melodrama. It quickly grows dreary when there’s not a knowing smirk to match the intensity.


Release label: Sub Pop

Release date: August 7

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