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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Albums of the Year - #5: Washed Out - "Paracosm"

Rating: 9.2/10

In August, chillwave gurus Washed Out gave us Paracosm, one of 2013's warmest, most embracing records. Upon its release, mentioned the album's "variety of lush soundscapes and irresistible grooves," all of which have only gotten better as summer slowly transitioned into fall and eventually winter. Most of what I said back in August still holds true; each track is just as bouncy, light, and smile-inducing as ever. The tranquil "Entrance" still paints an idyllic scene, with the sounds of nature lying under a simple, sleepy riff. Even the colorful album cover says "summer," matching the general tone of the music.

The standout tracks from my early review still sound great, but it's the other tracks which have grabbed my attention in the interim that merit a full-point jump up in score, from the original 8.2 to today's 9.2. The beautiful weirdness of "It All Feels Right" is created via the use of harps, strings, and nostalgic lyrics. In the chorus, Greene purrs, "close my eyes/think about the old times/what's it all about?/the feeling when it all works out." "All I Know" still soars in all of its 80's-inspired glory, soaked with synthesizers and a rhythm Depeche Mode would be jealous of. "Falling Back" and "Weightless" float high atop Greene's smooth vocals and wave upon wave of keyboard.

Several other tracks which weren't necessarily worse but perhaps overlooked early on have now become some of the my favorites on the record. Most notably, "Don't Give Up," with its fractured introduction and ambient background dialogue, has peaked my interest. "Even though that we're far apart/we've come so close/and it feels so right," expresses Greene here. Worldly percussion and fuzzy production only add to the song's aesthetic.

"Great Escape" is another song that's grown on me over the past few months. The wobbly keyboards and plucky bass join another stellar vocal performance to form a trippy experience. The title track is a deliberate piece with pedal steel guitar and a looping string/harp part. The album closer, fittingly named "All Over Now," contains swelling synths and acts as a welcoming send-off for the album.

So, overall, not much about my opinion of Paracosm has changed since August, which can be read here. A few tracks have gotten even better, but for the most part everything's the same. Paracosm is not a simple album, but I say this not in a reductive sense, but a complementary one. No album of 2013 consistently made me smile more than Paracosm did, and still does, nor has anybody put out a better synth-pop record. Relaxing, pleasant, and elegant, Paracosm is a record I will be coming back to for years to come, and every time I won't be able to help but be comfortable.

Key tracks: "It All Feels Right," "Don't Give Up," "All I Know," "Falling Back"

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