Paracosm, a detailed fantasy or imaginary world, according to Wikipedia’s definition. Such an album title has perhaps never been more appropriate as Washed Out returns once more to flesh out his melancholic Summer vibes on this, his latest release.
Chillwave is such a shitty term for a genre but yet it manages to encapsulate the sound so damn well; most people thought it was only going to be a short lived fad (hence the -wave suffix) but the music is always low-key and never overly bombastic, not to mention still going strong 4 years after its peak. But it’s difficult, since most of the original big-hitters in the genre (Memory Tapes, Toro Y Moi, Washed Out) have moved along from the lo-fi, bedroom recorded productions and have tightened up a lot. Still, it didnt stop his debut Within And Without being a tremendous hit, but the question is what has he done since then?
Before we enter any fantasy world we need an introduction, a short and neat segue to get the juices flowing and ease us into it, and that’s exactly what he does on the short and cute opener “Entrance”, filled with delicate synth ambience, xylophones and distant birdsong, slowly unwinding into the aptly titled “It All Feels Right” through a series of harp strokes and vocals cries. “Close my eyes” Ernest sings in the chorus as he slows the beats down and smears the vocals out, trying to prolong these special moments, although he closes a bit cheesily with cheers from a crowd which I’m not particularly enamoured by, although it does make more sense in the context of the next track.
“Don’t Give Up” has an odd vibe, and it’s something repeated throughout not only this album but throughout his music by and large; there’s such a jovial and upbeat tone to the quite honestly amazing plethora of instrumentation and electronica but the vocals always feel at odds to this with their distant, dream-like quality and clearly dejected lyrics, but he makes it in the end as he wades through the crowd once more to find his friends calling. “All I Know” is finally a decent track to start getting the album into gear with sweet synth riffs zipping through and a generally more driven feel; even the vocals seem more empowered and they really help to drive the swathes of guitars and percussion and drones along. It’s a great feet-tapper and I personally would like to hold this up as a perfect ambassador for the genre.
“Weightless” rolls around in the mid-album to some even more ethereal vocals and low-key beats, keeping a great balance between that wistfulness and nostalgia. It’s funny, Within And Without seemed to be a much more retrospective and past-seeking release but Paracosm is very much an in-the-moment album, trying to squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of the Summer in this blearily euphoric piece. “Great Escape” changes gears pretty awkwardly with its defocused guitars and much more prominent percussion but it’s just as laid back and some nice comforting filler, albeit 5 minutes long.
The title track itself is perhaps the haziest of the hazy, and perhaps somewhat overlong, clocking in at 6:33. The harps we heard at the beginning are brought back in rolling arpeggios alongside acoustic guitar to serenade Ernest’s singing, although like much of the album it’s practically as though he’s singing to himself through all the low-fidelity and reverb, then again that’s kind of what Paracosm is about, these personal constructs and idealised worlds we create for ourselves, even if they are just to preserve moments we love. The ending is beautiful with the piano and detuned radio burst though. I can’t really speak too much for the closing tracks though; “Falling Back” is a gorgeously upbeat number that really kicks up a pace and “All Over Now” harks back strongly to the beautiful closer of his debut “A Dedication”, but the piano and sombre tones have been stripped back to make way for a sun-drenched, low-key synth finale.
I’ll be honest, Paracosm is a lot better than Within And Without in my opinion; the debut was every bit as refined and carefully crafted as this but far less well rounded, not to mention far more depressing overall. Paracosm has a much more upbeat temperament overall and I can dig that; there’s too much pained wistfulness and nostalgia going on in the debut but this is an album devoted to treasuring the moment and making sure we remember it with enough fondness that we don’t ache to return, the memory is sufficient. I like it a lot, but there is still something about his style that makes me love and focus strongly on just a few singular tracks as opposed to the entire body.