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 posting a handful of bedroom recorded tracks to his Myspace page unassumingly 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 to that previously”, 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 matched 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 were 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 etc. 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 that whilst 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 set ups (initially solo with laptop and then joined by contemporaries Small Black as backing band) with increasing success – inspiring a legion of devoted supporters, followers and imitators along the way before seemingly wilfully slipping back into obscurity again – just as the Washed Out project was beginning to leave the internet ghetto behind in favour 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 capitalise 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 whilst writing the new songs was on how they’d sound live”, says Greene, “that’s something that never quite translated how I wanted to 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 adding 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 perhaps 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 almost orchestral in its arrangements and 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.
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