Washed Out's 'Paracosm' Drifts into the Undertow of His Own New Age-Disney Dream World

6
Paracosm
Critical Mass
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Label: Sub Pop

by Stephanie Benson

Ernest Greene is obsessed with creating a "feel." Hell, his 2009 breakout song as the chillwave totem Washed Out was called "Feel It All Around," and now, on his second full-length, he's declared that "It All Feels Right" — that "it" still quite the ambiguous pronoun. He confirms these positive vibes more than a few times here, including second single "Don't Give Up" ("Even though that we're far apart / We've come so close and it feels so right"), complete with a vibrant, National Geographic-style video that finds our hero drifting perilously close to New Age territory. But as the album title suggests, Greene is envisioning more of a fantasy sound world: Think Snow White, not Enya, as Mother Nature.

It may be an abstract feeling, but Greene still expresses himself literally: "Weightless" indeed seems to lift off its feet, with beats that sound ready to collapse onto passing clouds of synthesizers, while "Paracosm" is haunted by the ghost of Walt Disney himself, his friendly-cartoon spirit awakened by harp glissandos and the squeals of an ondes Martonet; "All Over Now" is the aptly titled closer, as Greene almost puts himself to sleep with his somnambulist chants. Each track bleeds into the next with seamless precision, borrowing each other's fantastical effects from both mid-century analog plug-ins and modern digital tricks.

Paracosm's whimsical atmosphere recalls another one-man dream-pop outfit's 2013 sophomore album: Youth Lagoon's Wondrous Bughouse. Both Greene and YL's Trevor Powers have transformed their solipsistic pop visions from minimalist to kaleidoscopic, churning out dizzyingly complex melodies optimal for pure headphone daydreaming. The common denominator is co-producer Ben H. Allen, who alshelped with Washed Out's 2011 debut, Within and Without, and has become somewhat of a behind-the-scenes guru of atmospheric psych pop, also working with mood-defining mystics from Animal Collective to Deerhunter. Allen may swirl sounds together like a human Spirograph, but throw in Greene's vast range of noise manipulations — all attempting to trace the same hazy-lazy aesthetic — and the lines start to thicken and subsequently blur, until the band name Washed Out becomes a very literal prospect, too. Soon enough, these songs all start to sound the same.

Which means it's easy to forget how neatly the creator of this paracosm fits into his own world: Greene's buried, detached croons merely serve as a peripheral constant, a lonely fish swimming with the current. (Though you can mostly discern the words this time around.) Sure, he's created a beautiful ocean of noise, but such a vast sea can be immensely powerful , and the "feeling" that he's so desperate to convey too often gets submerged.

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