Music

Washed Out: Within and Without

Within and Without is a pretty lush and orchestrated album, and it seems otherworldly and existing in its own place in the musical stratosphere.


Washed Out

Within and Without

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2011-07-12
UK Release Date: 2011-07-11
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Atlanta’s Ernest Greene, who records and performs under the moniker Washed Out, has been riding a boatload of hype in the indie rock sphere. He has most notably provided the indie-friendly TV show Portlandia with a theme song in the form of his “Feel It All Around” and, with the release of his first full-length album, Within and Without, it seems that everyone has something to say about the record. Some people seem to either really like it, or really dislike it in equal measure – making it hard to get a cultural reading on the album. On the second front, the record has even attracted the negative attention of outspoken DJ and producer Diplo recently, as he tweeted “Washed [O]ut need to put some starch in the wash cause this album sounds kinda limp.”

Ignoring that for a moment, it would seem that there is some level of genuine excitement about the disc partially because it has been made out to be something of a Second Coming for the very loose musical genre known as “chillwave”, which is a lo-fi tag that gets banded about whenever someone puts out an album, usually recorded in a bedroom, that has layers and layers of lush ’80s style keyboards. Well, it might be debatable if Within and Without actually meets that genre tag, because Greene has roped in a fairly big name indie-rock producer, Ben Allen, to helm the boards behind the record – Allen most notably has worked on such laded discs as Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest and Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere. Therefore, Within and Without is a pretty lush and orchestrated album, and, while it might sound somewhat evocative of trippy ‘80s synth pop crossed with a hint of trip-hop, it paradoxically seems otherworldly and existing in its own place in the musical stratosphere.

Don’t let the cover art of a man and woman making out naked from the waist up deceive you at all: Within and Without is really more a soundtrack to foreplay than its up front imagery would lead you to believe. It bounces along in a soft trance-like rhythm at times, and is remarkably gentle without really resorting to much in the way of pure balladry. While it’s hard to say if there’s any real club-baiting anthems to be found on the album, it does percolate at a steady gallop and is wistfully nostalgic for keyboard drenched bands of some 30 years gone, without actually referencing a particular band or style, unlike the recent the Chain Gang of 1974’s Wayward Fire, which was essentially an open love letter to all things New Order and Depeche Mode. That makes Within and Without a bit of a remarkable album: it sounds both new and retro in the same breath as its keyboard laden sound is less icy and cold insomuch as most music from the ‘80s sounded, and much more warm and earth-toned hued. In many ways, Within and Without could be tracked against a sepia-toned black-and-white film and remain incredibly tactile. There are astonishing hues of sound: soft squeaky violins that bubble under the surface of “Far Away”, the slice-and-diced female vocals that provide a backbeat to “Before”, and what appear to be a tambourine and a shaker buried underneath the processed drum machines of “Echoes”.

However, a trajectory must be traced back to Diplo’s aforementioned tweet. While I wouldn’t go so far to call the music “limp”, the album as a whole does seem to run together a bit and maintains an overtly consistent sonic approach – making the whole affair a little, if you’ll pardon the very bad pun, washed out. Within and Without seems to really work best if taken in partial doses, instead of a cohesive wall-to-wall artistic statement: individual tracks could be careful considered for a mix CD, and you would be probably adequately sated with just those one or two tracks parceled out at a particular time. This is particularly true when you consider that Greene’s vocals are fuzzy and indistinct, making them an instrument in and of itself, and because they’re so indiscernible, there isn’t a particular feeling or message that you can take away from the album. Plus, it says something when the most noteworthy track comes at the very end of the outing: “A Dedication” is unlike anything that has preceded it, being a stark piano ballad without a great deal of instrumentation to adorn it. Being hissy and lo-fi, when everything that came before is so bright and polished, it becomes something of a stand-out. Being an almost counterpoint to Radiohead’s recent “Codex”, the track is simply memorable for being an island surrounded by a sea of heart-thumping retro-anthems.

Within and Without isn’t all that bad of an affair, but it could have used a bit more variation in its reverb-heavy sound. If the disc is to be remotely considered to be “chillwave” at all, it comes with the caveat that there aren’t really any prerequisite chills that would run down your back when presented with this collective of nine songs. A glitchy mood is established to be sure, and there is stuff here that is agreeable in way that will get the listener’s head-nodding. What Within and Without really lacks are tracks that would be hit-worthy, which is an odd assessment when you consider that Greene’s previous output had been relegated to singles and EPs. That leads to the assumption that Within and Without is a litmus test: a means for the artist to really get a feel for the freedom associated with a full-length release. There are things to be enjoyed on Within and Without in tiny, incremental measures, and while some may be left wanting by the lack of variation to be found within these locked grooves, there’s enough moments of incandescent beauty on the record that obviously will get fans of indie pop talking – for good or nil.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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