Released: September 15, 2009
Label: Mexican Summer
By: Andrew Reyna
Recently, it’s been in fashion for independent artists to invoke the lo-fi aesthetics of the home recording studio or the garage (see Wavves) in an intentional ploy to distinguish their recordings from glossy studio-produced music and to implement the DIY ethos of 1980’s indie acts. However, there is always a question that comes to the discussion when modern artists take this approach. That question; when do contemporary artists that take the “lo-fi” route in making their music create genuine art and when are they merely following a trend that is en vogue? It’s not always easy to distinguish which is which. Luckily, Washed Out is an artist of the former. Washed Out is the solo project of South Carolinian Ernest Greene. Greene encompasses elements of shoegaze, electronica, pop, lo-fi, garage, and dance in his compositions. The tracks on Life of Leisure are reminiscent of early M83 or early Junior Boys. The common thread among early M83, Last Exit era Junior Boys and Washed Out’s Life of Leisure is the lo-fi element present in the recordings. On almost every track Greene’s vocals are indecipherable and everything sounds as if it’s been recorded through a 16-bit processor. The only element of his vocals that can clearly be distinguished is the stand-out pop melodies. Take for example tracks like “New Theory” and “You’ll See It”. On these tracks, Greene has taken the emphasis off of the lyrical and placing more emphasis on melody. Green serenades the listener with his simple yet catchy melodies throughout the duration of Life of Leisure. It’s almost as if the listener can program their own narrative along with Green’s strong melodies and in every instance you would probably have a pretty good pop song.
The EP starts off with “Get Up”, perhaps an attempt on Greene’s part to engage listeners who are not accustomed with his take on indie synth-pop. “Get Up” is a little underwhelming, especially as a lead off track, it sounds more early 1990s R&B than anything else (and not the good kind). Fortunately, the only stumble by Greene comes early. “New Theory” takes the listener into a layered wall of melodic luscious soundscapes. Here, Greene’s pop sensibilities are evident, the music is relaxed, not forced as on “Get Up”. As a result, the music becomes engaging to the listener. “New Theory” has a certain serenity and calmness to it, almost a tone of finality in it, sounding as if it belongs at the end of a John Hughes film. “Hold Out” picks the tempo up from “New Theory”, the beats are mixed more in front, and as a result, they become more distinguishable than on any other track. “Hold Out” is the track that “Get Up” aspires to be, an up-tempo R&B dance influenced track that still maintains the distinct flavor of the individual artist. It does not come off as forced or calculated like the opener. Without question, “Feel It All Around” is the EP’s strongest track. As soon as the track begins to ensnare you, it ends, and you feel compelled to set the track to repeat. The hypnotic beat coupled with Greene’s lullaby-like vocals creates a dream like track, one unlike any other on the EP. The EP closes out with “Lately” and “You’ll See It”. “Lately”, much like “Feel It All Around”, goes as quickly as it appears. “Lately” acts a more hypnotic take on “Hold Out”. “You’ll See It” is an excellent closer to the EP. Its dream like trance and obvious shoegaze influence leave the listener wanting more. Green’s vocal phrasing is critical to the success of each of these gems. The majority of indie artists engaging in this particular type of musical endeavor would likely fail. If you take away Greene’s vocals you take away an element that breaths life into the tracks. If these tracks were presented as just musical tracks they might be interesting enough to garner some attention, but the arrangements would be lacking that one ingredient that sets it apart from the pool of similar artists. That’s the importance that Greene’s vocals bring to the entire song.