Within and Without is the debut album by 28 year-old Atlanta-based songwriter and producer Ernest Greene, AKA Washed Out. Long adored and critically lauded in the blog world, Greene first came to prominence in the summer of 2009 after unassumingly posting a handful of bedroom-recorded tracks to his Myspace page from his family home in the seclusion of the tiny rural city of Perry, Georgia. “I’d been writing music on my own for three or four years previous to that,” Greene explains, “mostly as a way to experiment with songwriting processes. Those were just the first I ever shared.”
Despite such modest intentions however, those first songs (many of which would appear on the acclaimed Life of Leisure EP of later that year) were about as complete an opening statement from an artist as imaginable. A heady, psychedelic concoction of what Pitchfork’s Mark Hogan termed “romantic nostalgia and homespun textures,” songs such as “Belong” and “Feel It All Around”-Greene’s biggest hit to date-artfully match the glossy melody of ’80s synth pop, the widescreen scope of early ’90s Balearic dance music and the slowed, heavy bounce of southern Hip Hop production to gorgeously wistful vocals with results as undeniably idiosyncratic and original as they are deeply accessible.
A remarkably impressive feat of songwriting and production given Greene’s means at the time (essentially little more than a laptop, sample bank and microphone), the songs of Life of Leisure saw him, alongside friend Chaz Bundick, AKA Toro y Moi, and the more established likes of Ariel Pink and Panda Bear, designated leader of a newly emerging DIY movement identified by David Keenan of The Wire magazine as “hypnagogic pop” for its romantic, retro-futurist re-imagining of pop music past.
“Hypnagogic pop is music that reaches beyond its performers’ abilities. It refashions ’80s chart pop-rock into hazy, psychedelic drone,” wrote Keenan at the time. Although, as Within and Without proves, it was merely Greene’s simplistic working processes and not any lack of ability that lent Life of Leisure its slightly lo-fi tone. And while all the dubious new genre tags attached to Greene (“hypnagogic pop,” “glo-fi,” “chillwave,” etc.) serve to illustrate his importance as a genuine leader they should not be allowed to distract from his primary talent as a great pop songwriter in the purest sense.
The rest of 2009 and early 2010 saw Greene taking Life of Leisure on tour in North America and Europe; working through various incarnations (initially solo with laptop and then joined by contemporaries Small Black as backing band) with increasing success. Along the way Washed Out inspired a legion of devoted supporters, followers and imitators before seemingly wilfully slipping back into obscurity again-just as the project was beginning to leave the internet ghetto behind in favor of bonafide real world success.
It’s fair to say, then, that Within and Without arrives with a great deal of expectation in tow. Rather than capitalize on the momentum of Life of Leisure immediately by rushing another record out, Greene consciously took a step back from the label scrum surrounding him and considered how best to move the project on. “The sound of those early songs was an aesthetic choice, but also a practical one,” as Greene puts it, “it allowed me to merge and blend a variety of samples and sourced work I was incorporating into my songs at the time. With Within and Without, however, I wanted the songs to develop from a more live, organic place and so some things necessarily changed.”
These changes, however, were not simply the results of a bolstered budget and heaps of studio polish-Greene self-funded the record and actually returned to the perfect isolation of the idyllic lakeside Georgian settings where the Washed Out project began in order to get to work. Instead, he set about adjusting his working methods, “re-learning traditional ways of writing,” as he puts it.
Whereas before Greene pieced his gauzy, looping pop songs from obscure samples and segments of re-constructed found-sound plucked from an intimidatingly vast record collection, the widescreen, ecstatic melodies of Within and Without are all of his own composition and Washed Out no longer just a bedroom production project but a real band (now playing live as a five-piece that includes Greene’s wife Blair). “A lot of the focus while writing the new songs was on how they’d sound live,” says Greene, “that’s something that never quite translated how I wanted with the earlier stuff.” Not quite flying entirely solo, however, the services of esteemed producer and fellow Georgian Ben Allen were enlisted for co-production duties-Allen added a certain poise and conciseness to proceedings in much the same way he harnessed Animal Collective’s psychedelic sprawl into pop gold without sacrificing any of their inventiveness on the group’s breakthrough LP Merriweather Post Pavilion.
The result of this more considered approach to composition and enhanced production is a record that retains the jubilant, sun-kissed energy that lit up the imaginations of so many the first time around but also refines it-conjuring a far more nuanced and balanced sense of emotion from a more organic pallet of sounds and textures. At times Within and Without is almost orchestral in its arrangements and it is consistently, achingly beautiful in its effortless, longing melody. Whereas much of the talk around Life of Leisure was focused on its lingering sense of nostalgia, of halcyon summers spent loafing in the sun, Within And Without exists very much in the present, encompassing all the excitement and turmoil which that entails; for all its romance there is a deep yearning. Across its nine songs it feels equally sad and triumphant, anxious and blissed-out, often all at once.
Released on July 11th/12th (through Weird World in the UK/EU and Sub Pop in North America, respectively), Within and Without is a summer record to span the seasons; a collection of songs as comfortable sound-tracking moments of peaceful relaxation as they are lighting up a party, and a strikingly mature next step from a uniquely focused, sincere artist.