Scott Creney

Washed Out – Within And Without (Sub Pop)

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Washed Out - Within And Without

by Scott Creney

It’s worse than I imagined. Ernest Greene — the Trent Reznor to Washed Out’s Nine Inch Nails — and his music isn’t that bad, I guess. I like a little ambient background music with a little psychedelic wobble now and then myself. It’s not Washed Out’s fault that this innocuous, harmless music, meant only to be beautiful, to be a nice soundtrack to someone’s life — it’s not his fault that I keeping hearing all these horrible things in it.

Or is it?

After all, it’s the music’s total lack of substance that allows it to be anything people want it to be — the most co-optable sound to ever come out of the underground. The final mainstream nail in the alternative coffin. This music is dead. The kind of thing you find in stores that sell the kind of clothes you can’t afford. A soundtrack for the rich and privileged to shop away whatever’s left of this country’s wealth while their parents bust unions and rig the government on their own behalf. A music to help emotionally-stunted college students believe they still have feelings — that their inner life hasn’t been permanently stunted by a lifetime of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, anti-hyperactivity medication, and parental neglect.

A cover that looks like it came straight out of a fashion magazine. In an interview, Ernest says he sees the album art as a visual representation of his music. On this, at least, he and I are in agreement. I see two tanned, Hollywood-immaculate (muscular guy, pencil-thin girl) bodies engaged in a passionless embrace. More than anything, they looked bored. Or asleep. Which might be interesting if Ernest meant the cover to be some kind of ironic statement, about his music or about his audience. Instead, he just thinks that this album is more personal, and so the cover reflects a moment of intimacy, in the sense that this album is more intimate than the last. Get it?

Apparently, Ernest has never flipped through a fashion magazine — or made a trip to an Abercrombie & Fitch.

Music to make out to, I suppose. A collegiate version of Norah Jones. Music to smoke pot to. Music to buy expensive shoes to.

The worst kind of escapism, it really is the sonic equivalent of Ambien. It sounds like what airbrushing looks like. And the music feels as tangible as the breasts on this month’s cover of Vogue. The music embodies a sleepwalking lack of personality. It’s what those science fiction stories you read back in high school — Brave New World, 1984 — imagined the future would be like. Washed Out is bland, vague, a prescribed numbness, an officially sanctioned docile blankness. It’s asexual, apathetic, and drifting on clouds as its life passes before it. The crushing smile of a power that never shows its true face, because thanks to people’s apathy it never has to. Let them eat sunscreen.

Maybe it stands for pleasure, but Within And Without’s pleasure is the type you find on television & romantic comedies. It’s plastic, shallow, short-term, and ultimately empty. It’s as pleasurable as a cold glass of sweet tea on a hot summer’s day, and every bit as nutritious and filling.

So vague, so effervescent. Never has a band been so appropriately named. The music of Washed Out exists in a world free of suffering, free of meaning, free of struggle.  It makes Animal Collective sound like Gil-Scott Heron. It makes Fleet Foxes sound like Forever Changes. It makes Ke$ha sound like Public Enemy. It gives electronic ambient music a bad name.

(continues overleaf)

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