For his first full-length and Sub Pop debut, Georgia good-old boy Ernest Greene hasn’t moved too far from the sound that found him first making (chill)waves in the music blogosphere in 2009. But whereas his breakout EP, Life of Leisure, was filled with the kind of nostalgia-inducing synths and squishy ‘80s R&Beats that were enough to make certain historically-minded musical appreciators toss their lunch all over their MacBooks, there are serious harmonies, fleshed-out choruses and flat-out gorgeous songs throughout Within and Without. The result, while less of a party, perhaps, than Life of Leisure, ultimately shows a certain maturation on Greene’s part, and a more considered aesthetic overall.
Despite the unfortunate connotations that come with being associated with a nebulous sub-genre, Greene is no poseur, and while his dance-leaning brand of whatevercore may not be for everybody, there’s no doubting the talent here. From the thick atmospherics of “Eyes Be Closed,” which recall M83 at its most transcendent, to the transcendence of “Amor Fati” which recalls New Order’s atmospherics, this is clearly music that applies to a pretty particular listener. But it’s also, paradoxically, music that fits a myriad of occasions, from background ambience to the kind of gentle dance-swaying that occurs in darkened festival tents all over the world each summer. More than just a denizen of a passing trend or an artist cloaking lack of melody in reverb and fuzz, Washed Out consistently sounds like actual thought was put behind its music, which can’t be said about a lot of its so-called peers.
Moreover, and this is an important thing to keep in mind, Greene’s still finding his creative voice, a consideration that’s all-too-often glossed over with young artists. Play Life of Leisure and Within and Without back to back to hear just how far he’s come in a couple years’ time. This new album is an obvious descendent of that sound, but one with occasionally drastic steps in new directions. Luckily, if his recent sold-out shows and label backing are any indication, he’s going to have the chance to follow his muse wherever it leads. Which is to say: Washed Out will still be around when “chillwave” has gone the way of “dance-punk.”