Within and Without
2011 Sub Pop
I’d considered making the sentence “Within and Without is great music, go buy the record.” the entirety of my review, akin to a literary mic-drop, preferably followed by a slow clap, however I suppose that leaves out most of the exposition that’s compulsory in actually writing a record review. So, here’s the subtext of that statement in as many words as it takes to meet my strictly imposed and brutally enforced word quota.
There seems to me a small trend happening in “great music” that involves the creator moving back to a place of familiarity and solitude without the specific intent to make said great music. Just as the now legendary exodus of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to the wilderness of Wisconsin gave rise to “For Emma, Forever Ago”, Washed Out’s Ernest Greene moved back to peach country in rural Georgia to live with his folks and in a few short months managed to put together two EPs worth of above-par synthpop. There’s something to be said for escaping whatever rut or routine you’re in and returning to a place where you can find your center and while some may take that time to catch up on reading or video games there are those that see hidden parts of themselves uncovered for the first time in years. And I’m not necessarily talking about the tendency to spend solitude sans pants. I digress…
While these EPs served to propel Greene into the limelight they have only a passing resemblance to the modernized production and mellowed grooves of “Within and Without”. Understand that’s not meant to diminish the quality of Washed Out’s early recordings, just an observation. Indeed, “Within and Without” carries some of the same subtle throwback flavors as the EPs “Life of Leisure” and the rare, cassette only “High Times”, but has been lovingly scrubbed and shined to great effect. With that glimmer comes a change in mood and focus from twitchy and self-aware to expansive and warm.
Plainly spoken this is a record of arrival and renewal, like the designer taking the stacks of sketches and refining it to its ultimate idea. The elastic echoes of the opening track “Eyes Be Closed” make it obvious from the start that this album is mean to occupy a larger space, that it’s meant to invoke images of the topography of clouds as you soar above them, of the thin, biting air of high mountain vistas. Tracks like the upbeat “Amor Fati” and the understated title track “Within and Without” recall the warmth and patience of Ulrich Schnauss while maintaining some of the urgency and persistence of Deerhunter and Toro Y Moi. There’s still a fair bit of the vintage 80’s synthpop that made up the foundation on “Echoes” and the sensual bump of “You and I”, which is possibly the most layered and sonically arresting moment on the album. Guest vocalist Caroline Polachek of Chairlift lends her drowsy siren song and breathy whispers which add an extra dose of animalism and carnal gravity that the rest of the album may lack.
Overall, for an artist that’s really just appearing “Within and Without” is a phenomenal accomplishment considering it was rooted in creativity inspired partly by boredom.