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Washed Out's dancefloor bliss 

Wednesday, Mar 24 2010
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"A bed every night would certainly make for a more pleasant experience," Ernest Greene grumbles in an unusually unguarded moment from his nationwide tour. You can assume that artists who make their names via laptop and MySpace aren't easy about going on the road for the first time. And the man better known as Washed Out has even more to worry about artistically. The powers that blog have slotted him and his peers as "chillwave" or "glo-fi" for the blissed-out nostalgia trips their cracked, vintage sonics and blank-canvas soundscapes inspire in fans. Dropping the facade of electronic haze and cloaked lyrics in his music to show a face behind the whole thing might pop the bubble and contaminate expectations. Even worse, he doesn't want to be boring.

Greene hasn't exactly made his name saying what he means. The songs that catapulted him to acclaim and semifame have titles like "Feel It All Around" and "You'll See It." But what is "it"? The barely audible lyrics are disguised with barrels of echo, like Slowdive's androgynous harmonies circa Souvlaki. In conversation, he remains nearly as vague. "'You'll See It' was a really personal song," he says. "I was pretty bummed out around the time I wrote it, and it was meant to be really positive. Sort of a reminder that everything would work out in the end."

That explanation could well be chillwave in a nutshell, if Greene is at all typical. He reportedly recorded his breakthrough EP as Washed Out, Life of Leisure, from his parents' home in Georgia, where he moved back to shortly after graduating from college and having trouble finding work. If the bright and summery, yet slow-dribbling music is a conscious uprising against the lack of motivation in a shitty economy, that has only been left to implication.

Though Greene has dabbled in more rock and hip-hop–style pursuits, he's cryptic about whether any of that will bleed into his best-known musical incarnation. "It's really hard figuring out how far out people's taste will go," he says, also noting that his live set is "pretty different" from the EP.

After initially telling journalists he was reluctant to tour, he now seems satisfied with what he can bring to the stage. "It's a lot of fun," he says. "The set has two parts, first me by myself with a sampler and a few looping pedals — it's about 20 minutes of upbeat, disco-type jams — and I improv vocals on top with loops. Then the guys from [tourmates] Small Black come back up and we do five or six [pieces] of my more popular material. The songs definitely come to life with the full band."

It's hard to imagine those duties divided among real instruments, not to mention Greene's disembodied, unintelligible murmur coming out of a human. In "Feel It All Around," the lyrics might as well be heard through a waterfall, while shimmering electronic elements push them in and out of focus like a distant glimmer.

So what has brightened touring for Greene? The really geeky stuff: doing his own artwork and packing for CDRs and cassettes of unreleased songs, and "just checking out a lot of bands and talking with other musicians about setups and technical things." He calls it inspiring, and who are we to deny that? Re-creating that blur — a whole tour's worth of photographs, backstage memories, and multicolored lights fading into the haze — could well be his next record. He may even open up enough to let us in on what "it" is.

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Dan Weiss

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