Washed Out – Within And Without
Released July 12th, 2011 on Sub Pop Records
Produced by Ben H. Allen and Ernest Greene
Peaked at #26 U.S., #89 U.K.
“Eyes Be Closed” (#10 U.S. Dance)
Where to start? Probably at the beginning.
So, the internet changed everything.
Not at first, of course. At first, in that initial blush between 1995 and 2001, it was almost a curiosity. Sure, a lot of people had moved to Seattle and New York City and made money hand-over-fist in the Dot Com bubble, but the fact that it was a bubble meant that most people had no idea what to make of the internet, or what it meant. It was two things that transformed the Internet As Curiosity into the Internet As Everything: easier online shopping and social media.
Social media came in fits and starts throughout the 2000s. In and around the earliest days of Friendster and MySpace and Facebook were the blogs – your Brooklyn Vegan, your Pitchfork, your Gorilla Vs. Bear, and a million more – and a general ecosystem some pundit or another hung the label of “the blogosphere” on. By the end of the 2000s musical trends were filtered through the blogs, who chewed on them and tasted them and swapped them back and forth. This led to a curious fracturing of musical scenes into what would become short-lived but intense microgenres – the internet has been great for the Balkanization of musical taste. The first of these microgenres to achieve escape velocity to the mainstream (because who the hell remembers blog house besides me and a scant few others) was chillwave.
“Chillwave” was a term that was coined derisively, by the blog Hipster Runoff. In 2009 Hipster Runoff was a satirical blog making fun of Brooklyn hipsters; many people at the time were doing this but they were unequivocally the best at it. The music that they termed this was, in the summer of 2009, a sort of hazy, lo-fi take on Eighties dance music – drum machine beats and warbly FM synths with heavily processed vocals and a general sunny summery vibe. It was the worst year of the economic collapse following the implosion of the U.S. housing market in 2008; people were broke, the future was uncertain, and most people just wanted to vibe. That summer being the “Summer of Chillwave” (as Pitchfork termed it) is unsurprising. Three leaders emerged from the pile: Washed Out, Neon Indian, and Toro y Moi. There were many others (Com Truise, anyone?) but those three continued to have careers after chillwave finally fizzled out around 2014 or so. Chillwave had a lasting impact long after its principle microgenre moment passed on; we have been in an extended 80s revive mode pretty much ever since ’09, and I might argue that the Summer of Chillwave never really ended. Check out Laura Mvula’s recent efforts: it could easily have stepped out of a club in 1987, and in a sense the chillwave movement flipped a switch and made it suddenly okay to say that the long-derided era of big synths and drum machines was good, rockists be damned. Other microgenres would come and go, many only briefly. There was a moment when it was cool to listen to music that sounded like the background music on the weather channel or from early 90s corporate training videos. Then there was something called ‘ocean grunge’ which I still to this day have not figured out and am pretty sure was just a 4chan prank (along with sea punk). There was a brief period of time when it was cool to slow songs down 800% and listen to them like whale calls. The only other lasting microgenre I can think of was witch house, a spooky take on IDM that peaked in 2010 but had a major influence on artists like the Weeknd, Tyler, the Creator (in the OF days), and Billie Eilish.
Within and Without was the peak of chillwave, for me. Ernest Greene had gotten in on the ground floor during the summer of 2009 with the single “Feel It All Around” but his 2011 debut gave full form to what the sound was about. Cascading synth work built around repetitive motifs, paired over thickly produced drum patterns and vocals that sounded as though they had been smeared and blurred and then pieced back together: that was Washed Out and chillwave circa ten years ago. “Amor Fati” is my favourite moment on here but it all fits together so well, one amiable groove into the next. It’s music tailor-made for lounging around stoned by the pool, shades on ’cause the future’s so bright. Chillwave was an endless afternoon and Within And Without was its perfect iteration, the album to just vibe to on repeat.