Release Date: Jun 30, 2017
Record label: Stones Throw
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Chillwave
Tired? Stressed? Life getting you down? Washed Out's new album is arguably just what the doctor prescribed - a sonic equivalent of dropping a Valium. And the title says it all. Mister Mellow, Ernest Greene's third album, is literally tailor-made to relax and zonk you out whether it's been a long day at work taking shit from the boss, or waking up to an unbearable hangover after a night on the piss.
O nce among chillwave's leading lights, Ernest Greene, AKA Washed Out, has edged away from the sound in recent years, growing less sleepy with each release. His third LP, and his first for Stones Throw, combines psychedelia, punch-drunk disco, bizarre voiceovers and Shadow-style cut-ups, and comes with an accompanying visual DVD, though Mister Mellow doesn't need gimmicks to succeed. These tunes, particularly the winsome Burn Out Blues, are spry and familiar yet steeped in mystery, as befits an album that steals from everywhere.
It must be awfully constricting for an artist to be one of the forefathers of a genre. When Ernest Greene, the man behind Washed Out, put out the Life of Leisure EP (and especially with the song "Feel It All Around") in 2009 he helped to open the floodgates of lo-fi bedroom pop artists who dominated Bandcamp in the early '10s. "Chillwave," as it was to be called, offered its listeners warm, glossy synthesizers and '80s nostalgia that quickly became somewhat of a joke.
For the uninitiated: Chillwave was a style of music that became popular around 2009, led by artists like Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi and Washed Out's Ernest Greene. After quickly becoming genre du jour, evoking nostalgic memories of summer with its dreamy, lo-fi electronic pop, chillwave became something of a punch line, falling of fashion as quickly as it ascended. But just like fellow genre-leaders Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi, Greene hasn't let the demise of chillwave burden his career. His new record, Mister Mellow, isn't so much a revival of Greene's chillwave days as it is a refurbishment: he takes some of the more compelling elements of the genre and repurposes them in new ways.
After the release of Washed Out's 2013 album, Paracosm, Ernest Greene took a step back to reconfigure the direction the project was headed. The chillwave sound he had helped popularize had seeped into the mainstream and both Washed Out albums had been variations on that sound; Within and Without looked to smooth R&B for inspiration, Paracosm to soft rock and shoegaze. By the time Mister Mellow, the third Washed Out album, saw the light of day in 2017, it appeared that Greene had decided to go back to his roots to create something that sounded like a pumped-up version of the early Washed Out sound.
You'd be hard pressed to find a more flagrant example of truth in advertising this year than a Washed Out album called Mister Mellow. This dude even put a neon, airbrushed "chillwave" hat on the cover. No surprise, really: Washed Out has been right on the nose since the beginning, even though he lands there with the softness of a light summer breeze.
H aving become ever more hi-fi in recent years, Ernest Greene, prince of the none-so-hipster chillwave genre, returns to the chewed-tape aesthetic he started out with, and comes up with some psychedelic, plunderphonic gems. A little like the Avalanches, Mister Mellow has found vocal samples swimming in and out of organ tones, baggy hip-hop rhythms and tropical exotica, topped with Greene's naive, stoned singing style. There are only a handful of actual songs, linked by burbling interludes, but they are good ones: Get Lost is a densely lush deep house anthem, while Hard to Say Goodbye's uptempo disco and chirpy wordless chorus vie with a melancholy mood.