The Chillwave subgenre has become the hipster-hater’s punching bag amongst music snobs. Its retro instrumentation and honored homage to the musical aesthetics of all-things-80s has inexplicably caught their ire, lighting fire to scathing reviews for almost every lo-fi glo-fi record to roll out since the term was coined five years ago. While traditional classical, blues, country, jazz, rock and other genres can be as retro as they want without an eye batting, the chill wave faces shrill hate from many, many purists and critics.
Perhaps it’s the fact that so much of Chillwave is produced by music geeks in bedrooms on laptops instead of in groups, bands or orchestras. The isolation and solitude in the sound alienating consumers who feel that music isn’t real unless it’s produced by committee. The singular style and unpolished compositions polarizing listeners now accustomed to shiny-sounding ones and zeros. Whatever the reason, a great Chillwave album usually starts out with a losing record among the elite. But if the slate were washed clean, Washed Out would gleam – a saturated summer love note which washes over the listener in a wave of reverb and sunshine.
With vocals so buried in reverb and chorus, the lyrics are not the stars of “Within and Without,” they take a back seat to the dense synths, basses and laid-back beats of Ernest Greene. The lyrics and melodies become a lead-string line in an immense symphony, the tone, flow and emotion of each line the real voice to convey the stroke of the composer. Greene is assisted by Ben H Allen in the production, who has helped produce “Merriweather Post Pavillion” for Animal Collective and engineered Gnarls Barkley. But make no mistake, this is Greene’s baby. His rich instrumentation and fuzzy warm production that marked his underground EPs are front and center again in his debut LP. While not quite huge enough to be a life-changing record, it is one that will get played for years and years and years. By making an ambiguous homage to albums faded and dated, the timelessness of Washed Out’s sound can live on for decades to come.