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Washed Out
Life Of Leisure Simon Jay Catling , June 21st, 2010 07:53

If various pockets of backlash are to be believed, Chillwave already appears to be on the way out. That might be seen to be a hasty turn of events considering I wasn't even sure what it was until recently, though it would appear to exist, in the main, in the slipstream of Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion. Why a whole sub-genre needed to be coined for it is beyond me, but then the blogosphere has a canny knack of making anyone who needs to take their time in dissecting music feel prematurely old and out of touch (I'm 22, the above makes me sound like I was starting to think of getting early nights when Bill Haley was the most searched artist on the Hype Machine - or the record store, as it was known back then.) Chillwave, as a term, is a product of blogging's flick-through haste to pin a (self)endorsement on anything with trend-potential, labelled by blog “writers” who haven't the time to describe what they're listening to; and if they haven't got the time to talk about it, then what chance does it have of receiving repeated listening?

But it's important to distinguish the term from the music, and in that respect there's another reason that chillwave might not have the legs; in Washed Out, producer Ernest Greene, it's pretty much played its trump card already. A delayed release in Britain has merely reinforced what the internet's known for some months: that Life Of Leisure is already the sub-genre's apex, a surface-level cloudless horizon of thickly produced whirring ambience convoluted by the fact that few of the pieces constructed to convey this are Washed Out‘s own. The Avalanches turned heads in 2000 with their cut and paste masterpiece Since I Left You, an explicit pointer to modern music's reliance on existing forms; a decade on Greene has replicated that message, though the range of obscure 80s FM radio samples he's employed wrap like vines seamlessly around each other to form a deceptive whole - far from the schizophrenic jerks of the Australian group. The most notable pillage is Gary Low's 1983 Italo disco flutter ‘I Want You,' slowed down here with hallucinogenic and left to take in its woozy surroundings in 'Feel It All Around.' 'Get Up,' meanwhile, is a remix in all but name as Change's 'Got To Get Up' is sped up, trebled up and gorged with delay, whilst its kidnapper drapes vocal wisps over the track's chugging synth and funk bass.

The irony is that it's such pilfering that puts Washed Out above its peers; whereas Ducktails and Neon Indian use their own tools to desperately try and create their own take of Panda Bear et al's annus mirabilis, Greene simply rounds up other people's tools to do the job for him. There's no sense of overbearingly hip replication, sources are simply gathered and assembled, then treated with swathes of reverb to transform them into depthless oceans of gently lapping sound - it's either brilliantly cunning or a brilliantly infuriating depending on your viewpoint. ‘Lately' and ‘You'll See It's' slight deviations from this stoned “everything is everyone's” vibe point towards the former, the first relying on a moreish constant pulse to push its looped calls and hushes hither and thither, while the second comparatively explodes with light before settling back on a constant low-frequency groove.

In many ways, Washed Out's association with blogging culture is apt, wanted or otherwise, and Life Of Leisure is a soundtrack for a particular aspect of our time. Representative of an apathetic world of borrowed links and knowingly obscure recommendations, its mix and match approach is similar to that of the scribes that have promoted it. Yet where others might've have left it that, Ernest Greene has at least gone to lengths to twist these odds and ends into something quite fluid, dreamlike and, more importantly, his own. This is something that should be remembered whether the herd turn their attentions away from him or not.