Album Review: Washed Out’s Paracosm

Washed Out

Paracosm

Sub Pop Records

Release Date: August 13, 2013

Track Listing

  1. Entrance
  2. It Feels Alright
  3. Don’t Give Up
  4. Weightless
  5. All I Know
  6. Great Escape
  7. Paracosm
  8. Falling Back
  9. All Over Now

Washed Out’s 2011 release, Within Without landed at number 24 on this site’s Best of 2011 List – and a part of my rotation for the better part of a year, thanks in part to Ernest Greene’s gently cooed vocals, backed by icy, sleek synth lines, gentle washes of reverb and delay pedal, and at times huge, booming break beats. Sonically, the tracks are reminiscent of earnest 80s synth-based pop acts such as Howard Jones, the Pet Shop Boys, Tears for Fears and others – but with a shimmering haziness that suggests a far-off, dimly remembered dream. And much like the great 80s synth pop acts that inform Greene’s work, the material may initially seem cold and ultra-modern, there’s a pulsing, beating and swooning heart beneath it all. At times it sounds like the interior monologue of a person who can’t quite tell

   Sub Pop Records released Greene’s sophomore effort under the moniker of Washed Out, Paracosm back in August. Interestingly, Greene has publicly mentioned that the album thematically explores the peculiar phenomenon of creating an extremely detailed, imaginary world. And from the release of the album’s first group of singles “All Over Now” and “Don’t Give Up,” there’s a subtle but noticeable change in sonic direction. Although the material still uses synths and other electronics to create a swooning feel, the electronics are pushed toward the background as live instrumentation, primarily guitars, keyboards and live drums take up the foreground.  The album’s material feels warmer, sunnier and decidedly psychedelic – and perhaps more important, more organic. But it’s also more densely layered and lush. Repeated listens reveal some new layer you may not have previously noticed.

   The first two tracks “Entrance” and “It Feels All Right” employ the use of woodland background noises – birds, gurgling water and the like, along with swooning synth, and seemingly hip-hop influenced break beats to create a dreamy, escapist air. “Don’t Give Up” bears the closest resemblance to Within Without but with more tribal-like percussion and a taut hook that will just grab your ear and won’t let go. “Weightless” is a track befitting its name, as it possesses an ethereal, airy quality – with a quiet, unassuming beauty. “All I Know” starts out with twinkling keyboard chords, which underpin the entire song, followed by shimmering guitar and Greene’s breathy coo describing what may be the most beautiful woman he’s ever known. By the bridge you’ll hear some strings adding to the song’s soaring hook. Album title track “Paracosm” employs some country twang with swirling electronics – it feels like falling into a deep fugue that’s so pleasant that you never want to leave.  

  The material on Paracosm is probably some of the prettiest and most sincere synth-pop you’ll come across this year. As I’ve played the album, it bears a slight resemblance to Cut Copy’s fantastic In Ghost Colours in the sense that it manages to adeptly bridge psychedelica, indie rock and synth pop in a way that feels utterly natural and organic. The hooks are taut and pop out in an infectious manner. Lyrically, there are lines that burrow their way into the heart – personally, I can’t get the lines around the hook of “All I Know” out of my head. Certainly among the fans he already won, I think this album will be beloved and will be beloved among the new fans he should win over.