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Washed Out – Within And Without (Sub Pop)

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Washed Out - Within And Without

by Scott Creney

It’s worse than I imagined. Ernest Greene — the Trent Reznor to Washed Out’s Nine Inch Nails — and his music isn’t that bad, I guess. I like a little ambient background music with a little psychedelic wobble now and then myself. It’s not Washed Out’s fault that this innocuous, harmless music, meant only to be beautiful, to be a nice soundtrack to someone’s life — it’s not his fault that I keeping hearing all these horrible things in it.

Or is it?

After all, it’s the music’s total lack of substance that allows it to be anything people want it to be — the most co-optable sound to ever come out of the underground. The final mainstream nail in the alternative coffin. This music is dead. The kind of thing you find in stores that sell the kind of clothes you can’t afford. A soundtrack for the rich and privileged to shop away whatever’s left of this country’s wealth while their parents bust unions and rig the government on their own behalf. A music to help emotionally-stunted college students believe they still have feelings — that their inner life hasn’t been permanently stunted by a lifetime of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, anti-hyperactivity medication, and parental neglect.

A cover that looks like it came straight out of a fashion magazine. In an interview, Ernest says he sees the album art as a visual representation of his music. On this, at least, he and I are in agreement. I see two tanned, Hollywood-immaculate (muscular guy, pencil-thin girl) bodies engaged in a passionless embrace. More than anything, they looked bored. Or asleep. Which might be interesting if Ernest meant the cover to be some kind of ironic statement, about his music or about his audience. Instead, he just thinks that this album is more personal, and so the cover reflects a moment of intimacy, in the sense that this album is more intimate than the last. Get it?

Apparently, Ernest has never flipped through a fashion magazine — or made a trip to an Abercrombie & Fitch.

Music to make out to, I suppose. A collegiate version of Norah Jones. Music to smoke pot to. Music to buy expensive shoes to.

The worst kind of escapism, it really is the sonic equivalent of Ambien. It sounds like what airbrushing looks like. And the music feels as tangible as the breasts on this month’s cover of Vogue. The music embodies a sleepwalking lack of personality. It’s what those science fiction stories you read back in high school — Brave New World, 1984 — imagined the future would be like. Washed Out is bland, vague, a prescribed numbness, an officially sanctioned docile blankness. It’s asexual, apathetic, and drifting on clouds as its life passes before it. The crushing smile of a power that never shows its true face, because thanks to people’s apathy it never has to. Let them eat sunscreen.

Maybe it stands for pleasure, but Within And Without’s pleasure is the type you find on television & romantic comedies. It’s plastic, shallow, short-term, and ultimately empty. It’s as pleasurable as a cold glass of sweet tea on a hot summer’s day, and every bit as nutritious and filling.

So vague, so effervescent. Never has a band been so appropriately named. The music of Washed Out exists in a world free of suffering, free of meaning, free of struggle.  It makes Animal Collective sound like Gil-Scott Heron. It makes Fleet Foxes sound like Forever Changes. It makes Ke$ha sound like Public Enemy. It gives electronic ambient music a bad name.

(continues overleaf)

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21 Responses to Washed Out – Within And Without (Sub Pop)

  1. Princess Stomper July 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Wow.
    *picks that Manorexia album off the shelf and cuddles it*

    Just … wow.

  2. Jez July 12, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    I don’t get Washed Out. It’s being sold as some ‘alt.cool’ loved by music bloggers and geeks, yet the sounds he uses are SO bland and so pathetic it makes me wonder if I am listening to a different record. I played it to my dad the other day and he said ‘that’s nice what’s that?’ Think that sums it up really. Dadelectronica.

  3. Lewis Parker July 12, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    If they existed 10 years ago, you can tell Sofia Coppola would have put Washed Out into Lost in Translation.

  4. Mike July 13, 2011 at 1:34 am

    I agree the album cover looks a bit like some sort of perfume or clothing ad, or whatever. But only because those industries have co-opted youth culture. are those models really that extraordinary/flawless? Lots of girls in their early 20s are that skinny; lots of guys the same age have a natural amount of musculature before their beerguts settle in; lots of kids that age are tan, especially during the summer; and the pair must be at the girls place, because the sheets are clean.

    I enjoy a good rant, and that’s certainly what this article is. But let’s not take it too seriously. Neither the rant nor the music. It’s just pop music, and it mostly isn’t revolutionary or meaningful, so you don’t need to ring the alarm bell about a lost generation every time an album like this comes out.

  5. Princess Stomper July 13, 2011 at 6:03 am

    They do rather make Chapterhouse sound like Slayer.

  6. Joseph Kyle July 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    If I were Phil Collins, I’d be calling up my lawyers right about now. I’ve heard more rip-offs of the drum solo from “In the Air Tonight” than the original song had!

  7. Everett True July 13, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    If you were Phil Collins, I’d be slapping you round the face right now.

  8. Joseph Kyle July 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Touche, sir! If I were Phil Collins, I’d be praying for a Mark David Chapman.

  9. Scott Creney July 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Funny enough, I actually enjoy (some) Phil Collins.

    http://athensmusicexpress.blogspot.com/2010/11/you-are-forgiven-1-in-series-phil.html

  10. Everett True July 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    He. Is. Not. Forgiven. Trust. Me.

  11. sleevie nicks July 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    be careful of which era of Phil Collins you enjoy Scott, just ask Pete Townshend.

  12. Chris July 16, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Lighten up.

  13. aislek July 16, 2011 at 2:06 am

    C’mon. This album isn’t that bad. Washed Out makes non-threatening, disposable pop & it was intentionally constructed as such. Not everything has to be profound. I wouldn’t call it sonic Ambien…maybe sonic hand sanitizer. It’s quick, accessible and you feel clean for a short time after listening to it.

  14. Everett True July 16, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Here’s the focus group response review. http://www.collapseboard.c​om/blogs/joseph-kyle/washe​d-out-the-focus-group-resp​onse-review/

  15. DC July 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Bravo! I find no redeemable quality in this album/outfit. It’s wet belly button fluff. It/they almost (*almost*) makes Perfume Genius seem momentarily interesting.

  16. disco August 1, 2011 at 12:29 am

    scott clearly grew up in a closet, eventually convincing himself that everything outside of that closet was nearly as good.

  17. Nabil October 13, 2011 at 3:49 am

    You are a terrible reviewer. You sound like you are in high school and getting back at this album for not going to prom with you. How can you appreciate anything with such an embittered spirit? Grow up, nerd.

  18. Ultramafic April 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    When you were riffing on science fiction stories I was expecting a comparison to the food they eat at the end of a wrinkle in time, that looks so good but has no taste.

    Amazing review, even tho I happen to like the album. “it sounds like airbrushing looks like.” gold!

  19. Anais July 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    What is wrong with you? This album is good and your taste in music is as bad as this fucking review, you little shit. Hope you get buried with this album, you fucker.

  20. James Flint July 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    What is wrong with you? (Everyone is measured in the terms with which I view myself as absolute)

    This album is good (I primarily respond on an emotional level)

    and your taste in music is as bad as this fucking review (See above)

    ,you little shit. (I have unchecked anxiety that leaks into feelings of persecution because of my low self esteem. I attempt to bolster my own sense of superiority through the diminution of others. Sometimes I lash out, but I still try my hand at grammar.)

    Hope you get buried with this album, you fucker. (I fear death)

  21. Luna Whitegrass November 28, 2014 at 2:30 am

    James, can’t you just leave people alone? You don’t know ANYTHING about this person, so what can you possibly say that means anything right now? And she’s actually right. Scott has a horrible taste in music if he hates Washed Out. Washed Out is amazing. Just go away, why don’t you? If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I’m usually nicer, but when people are mean to other people, it’s like… no more nice Luna. So, sorry if this cut a little too deep. Honestly, I think you need it. I don’t feel bad. Stop the sarcasm. Jeez. .-.

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