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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Album of the Week: Washed Out - "Paracosm"

Rating: 8.2/10

Washed Out is one of those groups have a clear intention, a definite purpose and specific emotion they want to convey in their music, and rarely stray from those ideals. In Washed Out's case, they're aiming for laid-back, summery synth music, and they execute it oh so well on their sophomore album, Paracosm. The sole member of the group, Ernest Greene, has managed to create an excellent follow-up to well-received debut record Within and Without. Paracosm, while only lasting a brief nine tracks, includes a variety of lush soundscapes and irresistible grooves, and by the end of the album you'll be wishing for those warm summer nights that Greene so eagerly tries to recreate in Washed Out's music. Despite having released just two albums, Washed Out's status as frontrunners of the so-called "chillwave" genre is undeniable after hearing this well-crafted piece of lo-fi dream pop.

The album opens with the calming instrumental piece "Entrance," which sounds like something that might soundtrack a peaceful resolution in a movie or video game, and sets the tone for the rest of the CD. I'm not usually a fan of minute-long instrumentals, but this one serves its purpose effectively and interestingly. The track doesn't really conclude and instead transitions via a flurry of harps into the next track, the beautifully composed "It All Feels Right." Opening with a beat that subtly draws from African music, the song soon turns into a wash (pun intended) of synthesized keyboards and orchestral strings. The verses are relatively straightforward, with Greene's clear and sincere vocals taking center stage before the chorus, including a slowed-down tempo and distorted vocals, comes along and steals the show. In the traditional chillwave fashion, the track jumps right back into the verses seamlessly. "It All Feels Right" could easily be considered as the strongest song on the album, and it's easy to see why.

One of the things that makes Paracosm such an enjoyable listen is the way it finds a certain groove and stays with it throughout. The flow of the album is astounding, as track after track slowly morphs into the next. Rather than fading out or simply ending each song before starting a new one, Greene has clearly put much effort into making Paracosm feel like a true album, rather than simply a collection of songs. It's one of those records you need to listen to all the way through before you fully experience it, before you can really understand it and enjoy it in the way the artist intended.

This last statement aside, Paracosm still contains songs that sound great as stand-alone singles, and can be thoroughly enjoyed on their own accord without relying on the rest of the CD. "Weightless" stays true to its title as the music floats among clouds of echoing snare hits and swirling keyboards. "All I Know" is another standout track, and had it been released in 1983 you can imagine it fitting perfectly in a John Hughes film. In fact, the entire record has a certain '80's vibe to it. It's able to achieve reach heights that made so much music from the decade so endearing and memorable without sounding cheesy or entering the gimmicky territory that other era-revival acts so often do.

Both "Falling Back" and the title track exemplify everything that makes chillwave enjoyable; warm synthesizers powering a forceful rhythm, combined with calm vocals to make just plain happy-sounding music, something indie culture sometimes lacks.

All in all, this album achieves what it set out to do, which is what Washed Out did with their first output; to create the perfect summer album. This August release will have you wishing it was the beginning of June, and serves well as a wrap-up to the season as August inevitably turns into September. Yet this doesn't limit Paracosm's capabilities, either. The album will sound great if you listen to it in mid-January, and will have you longing for summer to come. It just will have you missing the warm late nights of July rather than enhancing them. As always, make sure to listen to a few of the album's best songs below to catch a glimpse at what it all means, for while I can do my best to put it into words, nothing speaks for music like music itself.

Key tracks: "Entrance," "It All Feels Right," "All I Know," "Falling Back"

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