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Once a standard-bearer of the DIY trend chillwave, Washed Out’s Ernest Greene is finally out of the bedroom. But his full-length debut, Within and Without, is still very much in his bed.
“Dedicated to my wife,” reads the album’s liner notes. The Atlanta-based musician got married last year, and he seems…pretty excited. The album’s artwork is elegant and wistful, like a wedding invitation from the label 4AD. One page is a simple photo of wrinkled white sheets. And that cover—yowza! The photo of a young couple embraced in the missionary position is sexy (it previously appeared in Cosmopolitan), but it’s intimate and pretty, too, much like Within and Without.
Greene worked with Ben H. Allen, the producer of Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere, and the professional touch makes a remarkable difference. Most of the album would probably hold up with the cheaper gear Greene used to much fanfare on earlier EPs, but the partnership plunges Washed Out’s already dreamy material into a lake of luxurious cream.
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Opener “Eyes Be Closed” might be this year’s “Feel It All Around”—the intoxicated “hit” from 2009’s Life of Leisure EP—only, well, better. It soars above the height limitations of his previous recordings, but Greene doesn’t just ramp up the special effects. There is real songcraft growing inside his sun-bleached atmospherics. Within and Without has the same spirit that made Life of Leisure last year’s ultimate art-school summer-break album, but it’s less stoned and more enlightened.
A bright and sparkly highlight, “Amor Fati” is the clearest sign of Greene’s blossoming wisdom—the song’s title is Latin for “love of fate,” or the acceptance of one’s life, mistakes and all. Even “Far Away,” a shapely, morose song made moodier with cello (whoa) from Heather McIntosh, is comfortably melancholy. But Greene hasn’t entirely crossed a bridge. For the most part, he still sings in the same limited way, chanting and intoning without much exploration. “A Dedication,” the album’s numbing coda, throws his vocals toward the front, and he sounds resigned, placid, and a few notes shy of enchanting. Then again, vocal dramatics aren’t really called for—this is still chillwave we’re talking about.
Some may disagree that Washed Out is still in the chillwave game. Greene’s got a few more resources at his disposal now. And he’s using them to occasionally make something almost like polished indie rock. Atlanta drummer Bradley Hagen shows up to contribute some old-fashioned instrumentation on “Soft,” a simmering slow-builder built for a long, quiet drive. And see “cello,” above.
Ultimately, Within and Without is an upgrade from the dusty Italo disco on Washed Out’s earlier EPs, but it doesn’t overreach. Greene still likes his old jeans—he just chose to buy a nicer pair. Things like that happen when you get married.