Washed Out goes beyond the buzz

SALLY HEDBERG | Updated 9/10/2013

Ernest Greene moves past "Portlandia" and chillwave with new album "Paracosm."


Photo by Shae DeTar

The modern branding and marketing of “indie rock” is a phenomenon symbiotically (though not explicitly) linked to the proliferation of music blogs. That’s kind of a no brainer; cyber-buzz circling music has supplemented platforms to market a lifestyle channeled largely through clothing, media and technology.

In a way it’s brilliant, because, well, it works. Want a Tanlines LP with that romper? You got it (you should probably buy those mint-hued, over-the-ear headphones while you’re at it). The Urban Outfitters Effect can provide a positive boost for upcoming musicians, sure. However, it treats the music as more of a surface-level projection, an accessory to achieving a desired image rather than an art form. This skews perceptions - good and bad - for consumers and listeners alike. No one knows that more than 30-year-old Ernest Greene (Washed Out), and, refreshingly, no one could be mentally further removed from it.

“I’ve gotten a little bit better about tricking myself into feeling a certain way and being able to compartmentalize my business affairs and my creative affairs,” Greene said ahead of his September 12 show at First Avenue. “I think that’s extremely important for any artist.”

In 2009, the unassuming bedroom electronic artist from Georgia found himself swept into the hype-machine, a vanguard of the blog-generated “chillwave” movement. His single “Feel It All Around” became the opening credits soundtrack for IFC’s “Portlandia,” and his debut, Sub Pop-released LP “Within and Without” fared well, pulling him farther into the ever-expanding indie mainstream.

Greene became an artist with mass accessibility, pumped through mall stores and lauded by Pitchfork simultaneously. But inevitably buzz shifted, chillwave became passé and Washed Out’s vein of lo-fi, electro-daydream pop was put into storage to make room for the new flavors of the week (all of this transpiring in under three years). That seesaw trajectory could have derailed the careers of many other artists, but there was still immense anticipation for Washed Out's August-released sophomore album, “Paracosm.”

“I’ve been around long enough now where obviously trends change and you’re faced with a decision to keep doing whatever it is that you’re doing or try to make something feel more fresh,” Greene said. “I’ve found it best to ignore whatever is cool and to do what makes sense for a Washed Out record and my own progression, and then just hope that everyone is along for the ride.”

That’s the textbook response you’d expect from someone in Greene’s odd cultural position, but it’s believable when vocalized through his slight drawl. “Paracosm” doesn’t solicit relevance through any drastic stylistic change, and Greene didn’t relocate to Brooklyn when he got a signed to Sub Pop. He’s made an effort to remain isolated and unaffected by calling Athens, Ga., his home.

As it happens, Greene's isolation integrates seamlessly into the themes of the beautiful, sprawling “Paracosm,” an album that communicates most powerfully when listened to in its natural, consecutive flow. Drawing inspiration from a documentary about the life of outsider literary wonder Henry Darger, Greene (a library science scholar) picked up on some resonant similarities between himself and the fantastical writer who authored the 15,000-plus page manuscript “The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion."

“It was really powerful thinking about how he lived this very normal and in some ways very depressing life,” Green said. “He was a janitor, he lived by himself and was very reclusive, but the fact that he could transcend all of that in his imagination and creativity was incredibly inspiring.”

“Paracosm” is a testament to Greene and Darger's similarities and, in some ways, a manifesto to the outlook of Washed Out as an art project.  No matter the changing climate of  “coolness,” they choose to progress on their own terms (this tour features an enhanced five-person live setup), ultimately guided by the creative vision stewing within Greene’s own mind. And as it turns out, that’s still pretty cool.