Washed Out: Mister Mellow

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Mister Mellow is an album of interludes and abstract experimentations as much as it is a pop record.

Washed Out

Mister Mellow

Label: Stones Throw
US Release Date: 2017-06-30
UK Release Date: 2017-06-30

When used to describe music, especially music that I love, few adjectives make me bristle quite like "chill". The word has a way of reducing or even ignoring the entire emotional world of a song, flattening it out to conform to a value system of narrow, restricted expressiveness. In this sense, "chill" is also something of a hypermasculine ideal, the mirror image of macho aggression. Great music can be subdued, reserved, calm, even easygoing or laidback -- but never chill.

If Ernest Greene, a.k.a. Washed Out, shares even a fraction of this sentiment, the "chillwave" label that has often been applied to his music since his earliest EPs is likely anathema to him by now. If at first glance the title of his third album, Mister Mellow, seems to suggest an embrace of his image as a purveyor of gauzy good vibes, a cursory spin of the album's lead single, "Get Lost", immediately paints a more complicated picture. The song is driven by jarring stabs of piano that lend it an anxious, neurotic profile, even as Greene's narcotic vocals float hazily over the surface. While easily the tensest number here, the whole album subsists on a certain nervousness, with "Get Lost" providing the clearest indication that Washed Out is doing something slightly different this time around.

The title of Mister Mellow seems to be ironic, then, perhaps serving as an allusion to Washed Out's stereotyped image in years past rather than a statement of Greene's present intent. Traces of his expansive, euphoric pop sensibility certainly persist here, particularly on "Million Miles Away" and "Hard to Say Goodbye", which infuse their hooks with stray snatches of plunderphonics. Swaths of peripheral ambience give both tracks a distant, removed quality, like the catchiest pop songs that might play through your phone's grainy speakers while you're waiting on hold.

Most of the album, though, is artier and moodier than his previous works, from the percolating unease of "Burn Out Blues" to "Get Lost". At a mere 30 minutes, Mister Mellow is also a notably brief work and feels all the more so for having only five tracks that exceed the three-minute mark. In this sense, it is an album of interludes and abstract experimentations as much as it is a pop record. Some of the most interesting moments occur on the shortest tracks, however: "I've Been Daydreaming My Entire Life" incorporates a hip-hop beat into its wandering etchings, while "Down and Out" and "Instant Life" darken the mood somewhat with dense sonic textures and found monologues.

That Mister Mellow comes accompanied by a visual album is no surprise, as these tracks contain many non-traditional sounds that seem to require a visual corollary for their full effect to be realized. Even if this limits the scope of what it can do strictly as an album, it is exciting to hear Washed Out push against the boundaries of what his work can be. No one moment stands out as being particularly great or memorable, but taken as a whole, the project is at the very least intriguing. It is an ambitious, cerebral, and unexpectedly high-strung record that helps assert Greene's independence from his artistic beginnings, and from the restrictive tyranny of "chill".







The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.