Two years ago, we were all subjected to the summer of chillwave: the movement that killed itself with its own momentum. Over the course of just a couple of months in 2009, the phrase “it’s chillwave, bro” overstayed its welcome, and an annoyingly overzealous approach on the part of numerous guilty parties to cornering an atmospheric, lucid corner of electronic indie music failed. But the results of the fleeting trend left many bands on a welcome hook to make good on the potential that this moniker was promising. Toro Y Moi, Neon Indian, then Small Black and now Washed Out have all been hyped and pressed to present polished products that showcase improvement upon innovative, even if sometimes naive, ideas.
This form of pop music (fuzzy synths and dance beats) is abstract, unassuming, yet conventional and grandiose in its own right; a happy medium between ambient and electronic – a niche some people like to call shoegaze when it’s heavier on guitars and lighter on laptops. The sounds on Sub Pop debut Within and Without don’t vehemently demand your attention, but the more you give it, the more the record offers.
“Amor Fati,” meaning something like the “love of one’s fate” in Latin, is steadily paced and heavy on ’80s atmosphere, with soothing vocal intonations. It’s reflective, contemplative and comforting, but most importantly, it refrains from being presumptive or pompous – easy traps for the older, know-it-all squares who were putting out mainstream forms of this in the ’80s. This transitions into a slightly more assertive melody coming from a vibraphone on “Soft.” The drums add urgency and the reassurance from the previous track moves directly into a powerful momentum. This song serves as the centerpiece with the longest duration and the most definitive sound. Using a few simple elements – the strut of the vibraphone, the gallop of the drums and the extended synth chords – Washed Out main-man Ernest Greene builds a simple wall of sound that swells and deflates throughout before coming to an engulfing head. As is the case with Washed Out’s best moments, the atmosphere draws you in and paralyzes you with a calming lucidity.
In the end, the laptop movement known as chillwave (or glo-fi) was merely a small window of opportunity extended in recognition of several artists tackling a similar form of songwriting at the same time. It required a laptop, ambition and some sense of melody; but only a few artists took advantage of the opportunity by creating their own niche, rather than relying on the one that brought them the opportunity. Here Greene traded in the laptop for a full working band and the results are bigger, grander, fuller, without losing any of the ethereal aesthetic. Ultimately, the consistency and patience lend Within and Without maturity and cohesion: When talking about records as a whole, those two attributes add up to lasting power.
Stream: Washed Out – “Amor Fati”