Washed Out’s “Within and Without”
“Within and Without takes a large step in cementing Washed Out’s serious artistic ambitions, and it can be pretty catchy, too.” -EBEric Brown
Washed Out has taken sort of an odd career trajectory. The project began simply, as a creative outlet for Ernest Greene while retreating to his parents’ Perry, Georgia house, and before anyone really knew what was going on, the young artist had released two well-acclaimed EPs and begun to tour nationally. Hell, not only did Pitchfork fawn over Life of Leisure, they placed it on their best-of list. This left Green in the odd predicament of being a critically praised and internationally recognized artist that hadn’t yet released his first full-length album, so needless to say, there’s a bit of hype surrounding Within and Without, Washed Out’s first LP. Does it live up to the hype? Not quite. Is it still a great album? Most definitely.
Within and Without is a much slower, more deliberate album than Life of Leisure, the product of a slightly more mature mind than the one behind one of favorite dance records of 2009. Even Within and Without’s more danceable numbers take on a much slower pace than Washed Out previously displayed. Even “Amor Fati,” the track I’d most enjoy playing while jumping out on the dance floor, has a much more subdued aesthetic than Greene’s earlier tracks, and I think it’s a positive improvement. It shifts Washed Out’s layered, highly-textured soundscapes from the background of a party to the foreground of a unique listening experience. Not to say that you won’t get these songs stuck in your head.
For instance, “You and I” plays out like a much more downtempo version of Life of Leisure’s “Hold Out” — atmospheric vocals and musical hooks are almost exactly the same. But despite the electronic beat holding the song together, “You and I” isn’t the same poppy number we’ve heard before. The music is darker, more ominous, almost an invitation to mope rather than dance. But it’s a brilliant track that easily lends itself to repeated listenings, and maybe sometime, when no one is looking, you might just end up slowly shaking your ass to it.
Within and Without is a big step for Washed Out, and definitely the biggest gamble of Greene’s (admittedly short) career. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been hard for the young musician to recycle the same music that made his name, and I think fans would have been largely happy with it. But the songs of Within and Without are more complex affairs, somehow both bigger and more intimate than Greene’s earlier work. In this way, it’s not the album fans had hoped for; it’s something more dense and rewarding, and certainly darker. Within and Without takes a large step in cementing Washed Out’s serious artistic ambitions, and it can be pretty catchy, too.