Album Review: Paracosm

Music

Washed Out’s new album Paracosm showcases a change of sound, an organic and pastoral shift, and represents a major leap forward for the artist.
Ernest Greene
Anyone familiar with the music of Washed Out, the project of electronic musician Ernest Greene, would be aware of the genre ‘chillwave’. Put simply, it categorises music which is built on synthesisers, loops, samples and heavy effects processing, with vocal melodies being simple and filtered almost to make the voice behind them unrecognisable. Chillwave is a genre of soundscapes, a sound of moods and emotions electronically painted for the listener to enjoy. While a haven for synth hipsters everywhere, Paracosm is a fine example of the genre, made rich with deep moods, colours and thick textures. Greene keeps you entranced throughout Paracosm by allowing great warmth to come through in the tracks, with an overriding emotion of melancholic nostalgia.

The overall feel of the album can be expressed as dreamy shoegaze-pop with continual changes of mood and colour which snap the music into focus. Songs like the spacey “It All Feels Right”, the drum and bass beat of “Don’t Give Up” and the In Rainbows by Radiohead sound of “Great Escape” act as these ‘snaps’; the change in colours between tracks prevent the album from being a mash of electronic drones and whirring, instead making it interesting and engaging. All too often, ‘dreamy’ can be a euphemism for blindingly dull, with whole records becoming homages to paint dribbling down a wall. Not so for Paracosm. The combination of Greene’s forthcoming as a songwriter, with involved arrangements and rich textures, and the varied organic sounds he employs allows the listener to be transported by his music without being sent to sleep by it. For shoegaze-pop and chillwave in general, this is quite an achievement.

Aside from his success in this genre, Paracosm expresses some of Greene’s own emotional depth, in particular his feeling of nostalgia mixed with his own weariness as an adult looking back at his childhood. This is clear in second track “It all feels right”, where the childlike chimes and bright tone is vividly darkened with ‘Close my eyes, think about the old times, what’s it all about? The feeling when it all works out’. There is a dual perspective at play, with the child dreaming of the ‘paracosm’, the imagined fantasy world, and the world-wary adult wondering what kind of fantasy it was at all.

This is a vein throughout Paracosm, and imparts a bittersweet sentiment onto the natural and vibrant sounds of Greene’s production. However, it is also an album full of warmth and colour. Compared to Washed Out’s first album Within and Without, it is more organic and less monochromatic.  The textures are just as intricate and well thought out, with a slow-rolling tempo driving both albums forward.  But where Within and Without avoided excessive tonal colours in favour of hypnotic soundscapes, Paracosm draws the listener in with diverse colour changes, dream-like sequences and animated use of old-school synthesisers. In short, Paracosm gives Washed Out’s sound a new life, one not of cold or disengaged resonances but of a warm and intimate character. It represents a great leap forward for Ernest Greene.

4/5

Paracosm is an album with remarkable moments and bittersweet yet sincere character. If you are seeking a record to simply chill to this summer, Ernest Greene’s latest offering is most certainly one to check out. Listen to the full album here.