If there were a Monopoly board of “hipsterdom achievement,” getting one of your songs picked to play over the opening credits of IFC’s Portlandia might be considered the Boardwalk (or at least Park Place). In fact, Washed Out’s music carries with it the airy coolness that inevitably falls under the reductive label of “hipster music.” Yet dubbing it so would be a disservice to Ernest Greene’s music that, on Paracosm, ambitiously melds vast soundscapes and shows a great deal of skill in creating moods.
Paracosm opens with the one-two punch of “Entrance” and “It All Feels Right.” Immediately, these songs present a crackly, optimistic tone. “It All Feels Right,” with its flurry of childlike sounds and cheery lyrics, is bold in its unflagging bubbliness. The song is refreshing in its disinterest with being “cool” or detached ‒ a pitfall Greene occasionally encountered in his previous work. The highlight of the album was “All I Need,” the song that best marries Greene’s skills for lush airy instrumentals with strong lyrical songwriting. Although maybe this isn’t the comparison Greene was seeking, I couldn’t help but be reminded of U2. Greene’s isn’t the type of sound that would play well in an arena, but the song has a rousing, polished sheen to it and Greene’s voice has a top-40 tone to it. Maybe U2 isn’t cool anymore, but I mean this comparison in the most complimentary of ways.
Washed Out’s music on Paracosm sounds mostly similar to previous works from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Yet the brighter, more cheerful nature can make music appear less complex. This works in the record’s favor from time to time, but the overwhelming simplicity allows for a lack of variation that lends itself to sometimes resembling bland background music. The lack of variation is pretty amazing considering the plethora of sounds and instruments used, yet many of these arrangements are broad and pared down stylistically. Sure, it’s chillwave, but dare I say it can be a little too chill?
With all that said, one of the great achievements of this record may be its ability to stand as a collection of “summer jams,” while still retaining an admirable level of thematic depth. Washed Out remains an intriguing project whose ambitions will lend itself to further artistic growth and continue to place him at the forefront of the growing chillwave genre.