Washed Out - Mister Mellow

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:8 Release Date:2017-06-30

Ernest Greene, doing business as Washed Out, is back with his third proper album, Mister Mellow, and you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better nickname, as the music here is very relaxed, as per usual. But it also does enough fresh experimentation to smoothly dodge falling into a rut of ultra-hazy meaninglessness. Greene has added some new elements to the mix, giving the set a larger variety of sounds, ranging from loungy, somewhat jazzy moments to a fair amount of psychedelic weirdness in the neighborhood of groups like Future Sound of London. Which isn't to say he's turned Washed Out into an IDM project, far from it. But he's definitely playing around with his sound to avoid slipping into banality, with plenty of success. Compare the album artwork for Mister Mellow to older covers, and you'll get a good sense of the funkier style Greene is embracing here.

'Hard to Say Goodbye' is a perfect example of the groovier, more focused approach Greene takes on this set. His vocals are as dreamy as ever, but the music has a bit more drive, and the instrumentation is a bit punchier, almost tropicalia. 'Get Lost' goes the same route, with urgent keys, super fun percussion, and a hodge podge of samples backing his drifting voice. Many of the songs, like 'Floating By', bring in a feeling off dozing on the beach at sunset, with rolling, mixed beats layered with mellow, chiming melodies.

There's a clear evolution occurring from Greene's last album, Paracosm, with its twinkling, organic percussion pouring out of some lush garden of the mind, in the first proper song, 'Burn Out Blues'. That track morphs into something like a dubstep version of itself in 'Time Off', where everything hollows out and the echoes go into overdrive.

In other spots, the album wanders off into some fairly trippy terrain, such as on the interstitial track 'Down and Out', with a downbeat vocal sample and lots of reversed sound effects vibrating their way through space until it folds into the actual song, 'Instant Calm', an instrumental track where a coherent beat comes in, leaving the backwards guitar lots of room to roam. In this instance, however, it's more of a late 60s Beatles sound rather than a late 90s FSOL sound.

'Floating By' feels like the centerpiece of the album. It's full of incredibly silky grooves and percussive melodies, and Greene's voice gives it a gauzy sheen. It's like the archetypal version of the new song structure he's built up over the last two years. The funny thing is how on the last track of the album, finally, Washed Out sounds mostly like its old self: floaty, semi-ambient, and somnolent. It's a nice little throwback to bookend the set.

The only knock against the album I could make is that it clocks in at under thirty minutes, which makes it barely more than an EP itself. Still, I have a special place in my heart for Washed Out, as it was the band that connected me to a lot of contemporary indie music back in 2009 when the Life of Leisure EP came out. I'm extremely pleased to see Greene carefully broadening his sonic palette while staying true to his roots. While his oldest work is delightful stuff, there's only so many ways to play it before you're repeating yourself. This set manages to sound pleasingly retro, ultra-current, and distinctly Washed Out. Definitely one of the best things I've heard so far this year.

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