Despite being the butt of jokes because of its goofy but actually spot-on name, chillwave as an idea and a sound is here to stay. Synthesizers are in; guitar-based rock has taken a backseat to diffuse, rhythmic dance music; and the sound’s key influences (broken, blissed-out electronica, hip-hop) have leached into most interesting music happening right now.
So, where does a significant subgenre defined by the less-than-lofty goal of manufacturing good vibes go next? The artists either do the same thing with the same synth presets to diminishing returns (Memory Tapes, Small Black, Teen Daze) or they pull a Toro Y Moi on Underneath the Pine and morph into something different altogether. The former creates music that can seem a little too comfortable, and the latter, while admirable, could come over as a bit alarmist – a calculated response to the critics.
The first full-length from Washed Out doesn’t have an on-repeat banger like “Feel It All Around” on it, and it isn’t a sea change. Instead it’s a sly, solid release that can fade into the background but has the ability to jump out and take hold of your ears. It sounds great on headphones and even better coming out of speakers in a car or at a party, where it can breathe a little. When Washed Out’s Ernest Greene spoke to Pitchfork recently, he noted that he was working on the album in the same place that Goodie Mob were hammering out their reunion album. Quite different from the laptop on mom and dad’s back porch that birthed Life of Leisure.
Ben Allen, who helped beef up Animal Collective’s sound for Merriweather Post Pavilion, produced the album, and while Within and Without isn’t too shiny or expensive, the more professional approach rewards multiple listens. There are delicate, lasting production flourishes like the cracking snares on “Echoes” and the impenetrable web of fashion-show synths on “Before”
that give way to an agitated disco-like jerk. Drums are bold and complex, reflecting the almost Pete Rock-aping found on Washed Out’s tour-only Untitled EP, and live instruments are used for atmosphere the way samples were before. One of the most chilling, affecting moments of Within and Without happens when cello swings through “Far Away”.
The album’s also very sensual and not just because of the American Apparel-lite album cover. Its beats slink along like those Public Enemy drums creeping through Madonna’s “Justify My Love”, and there’s a lush, snowy warmth to the production (one of the songs is even called “Soft”). No longer a stand-alone Adult Swim-released single, “You And I”, featuring Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, is the soundtrack to a tender, Sunday morning make-out session, and well, just listen to that throbbing bassline. “Sade but a bit more shy,” or “Trip-hop intended for making love rather than fucking” kinda describes what’s going on here. “A Dedication”, the album ender, eschews airy ornate production for fragile piano and Greene’s least mumbly, most direct vocal performance. It’s a purposeful period at the end of the album; the point where the record stops worrying about dancing and seems intent to curl up and get cozy.
Within and Without is a declaration to snarky ironists that there is nothing to be ashamed of with this sound. “Feel It All Around”, Neon Indian’s “Should Have Taken Acid With You”, and Toro Y Moi’s “Blessa” entered this rarefied, awesome space between indie pop catchiness and fragile, narcotic groove, and here’s a whole album of tracks on that level.