Within And Without
Weird World (Domino Records)
8th July 2011
CD, vinyl & digital
Eyes Be Closed
You And I
Within And Without
Within and Without is the debut album by 28 year old Atlanta based songwriter and producer Ernest Greene, AKA Washed Out. Long adored and critically lauded in the blog world, Greene first came to prominence in the summer of 2009 after posting a handful of bedroom recorded tracks to his Myspace page unassumingly from his family home in the seclusion of the tiny rural city of Perry, Georgia. “I’d been writing music on my own for three or four years to that previously”, Greene explains, “mostly as a way to experiment with songwriting processes. Those were just the first I ever shared.”
Despite such modest intentions however, those first songs (many of which would appear on the acclaimed Life of Leisure EP of later that year) were about as complete an opening statement from an artist as imaginable. A heady, psychedelic concoction of what Pitchfork’s Mark Hogan termed “romantic nostalgia and homespun textures”, songs such as “Belong” and “Feel It All Around” – Greene’s biggest hit to date – artfully matched the glossy melody of ‘80s synth pop, the widescreen scope of early ‘90s Balearic dance music and the slowed, heavy bounce of southern Hip Hop production to gorgeously wistful vocals with results as undeniably idiosyncratic and original as they were deeply accessible.
A remarkably impressive feat of songwriting and production given Greene’s means at the time (essentially little more than a laptop, sample bank and microphone), the songs of Life of Leisure saw him, alongside friend Chaz Bundick, AKA Toro y Moi, and the more established likes of Ariel Pink and Panda Bear etc. designated leader of a newly emerging DIY movement identified by David Keenan of The Wire magazine as “hypnagogic pop” for its romantic, retro-futurist re-imagining of pop music past.
“Hypnagogic pop is music that reaches beyond its performers’ abilities. It refashions 80s chart pop-rock into hazy, psychedelic drone”, wrote Keenan at the time, although as Within and Without proves it was merely Greene’s simplistic working processes and not any lack of ability that lent Life of Leisure its slightly lo-fi tone and that whilst all the dubious new genre tags attached to Greene (“hypnagogic pop”, “glo-fi”, “chillwave” etc) serve to illustrate his importance as a genuine leader they should not be allowed to distract from his primary talent as a great pop songwriter in the purest sense.
The rest of 2009 and early 2010 saw Greene taking Life of Leisure on tour in North America and Europe; working through various set ups (initially solo with laptop and then joined by contemporaries Small Black as backing band) with increasing success – inspiring a legion of devoted supporters, followers and imitators along the way before seemingly wilfully slipping back into obscurity again – just as the Washed Out project was beginning to leave the internet ghetto behind in favour of bonafide real world success.
It’s fair to say, then, that Within and Without arrives with a great deal of expectation in tow. Rather than capitalise on the momentum of Life of Leisure immediately by rushing another record out, Greene consciously took a step back from the label scrum surrounding him and considered how best to move the project on. “The sound of those early songs was an aesthetic choice, but also a practical one”, as Greene puts it, “it allowed me to merge and blend a variety of samples and sourced work I was incorporating into my songs at the time. With “Within and Without”, however, I wanted the songs to develop from a more live, organic place and so some things necessarily changed.”
These changes, however, were not simply the results of a bolstered budget and heaps of studio polish – Greene self-funded the record and actually returned to the perfect isolation of the idyllic lakeside Georgian settings where the Washed Out project began in order to get to work. Instead, he set about adjusting his working methods, “re-learning traditional ways of writing”, as he puts it.
Whereas before Greene pieced his gauzy, looping pop songs from obscure samples and segments of re-constructed found-sound plucked from an intimidatingly vast record collection, the widescreen, ecstatic melodies of “Within and Without” are all of his own composition and Washed Out no longer just a bedroom production project but a real band (now playing live as a five piece that includes Greene’s wife Blair.) “A lot of the focus whilst writing the new songs was on how they’d sound live”, says Greene, “that’s something that never quite translated how I wanted to with the earlier stuff.” Not quite flying entirely solo, however, the services of esteemed producer and fellow Georgian Ben Allen were enlisted for co-production duties – Allen adding a certain poise and conciseness to proceedings in much the same way he harnessed Animal Collective’s psychedelic sprawl into pop gold without sacrificing any of their inventiveness on the group’s breakthrough LP Merriweather Post Pavilion.
The result of this perhaps more considered approach to composition and enhanced production is a record that retains the jubilant, sun-kissed energy that lit up the imaginations of so many the first time around but also refines it – conjuring a far more nuanced and balanced sense of emotion from a more organic pallet of sounds and textures – at times almost orchestral in its arrangements and consistently, achingly beautiful in its effortless, longing melody. Whereas much of the talk around “Life of Leisure” was focused on its lingering sense of nostalgia, of halcyon summers spent loafing in the sun, “Within And Without” exists very much in the present, encompassing all the excitement and turmoil which that entails; for all its romance there is a deep yearning – across its nine songs it feels equally sad and triumphant, anxious and blissed-out, often all at once.
Released on July 11th/12th (through Weird World in the UK/EU and Sub Pop in North America respectively), “Within and Without” is a summer record to span the seasons; a collection of songs as comfortable sound tracking moments of peaceful relaxation as they are lighting up a party and a strikingly mature next step from a uniquely focused, sincere artist.
Free downloads taken from this album:
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The All Clear
CD & digital
01. Could I leave With You?
02. Summer Tide
03. To The Shelter
04. Talking Down A Wire
05. Cherry Blossom
06. Protect And Survive
07. Leave The City
09. Trigger Happy
10. My Ghost In Your Machine
Having spent the best part of the 80’s trying to get his music signed to a label Bit Pixel gave up the ghost and joined the rat race. Spending his days working in a biscuit factory, dreaming of what might have been. Meanwhile in another part of the south east of England, Wayne at Lucky Pierre Recordings who while going through his mums loft had found a bag of old demo tape’s believed to have been rescued from a bin outside the then Mute Records office in London sometime between 1986 and 1988. When he heard the faded, long lost and rejected pop songs of Bit Pixel, he felt a calling to put this wrong to rights. At all costs this album had to be made. It took Wayne a good few month to finally track Bit down and put the offer to him, Wayne would buy Bit a nice new laptop to compliment his battered and aged synth’s and give him the software required to produce an album for his record label Lucky Pierre Recordings. So full with a new enthusiasm and feeling of optimism Off Bit went laptop in hand back to life in the biscuit factory. But this time pending every last spare minute of the day working on sounds and melodies at last his dream was to be realised. Five years later that album was delivered to Wayne who had waited patiently, checking in every now and then to take stock of progress. With the hard work behind him life is still the same the factory still calls at 7:30 every morning, this time made bearable by the fact that some one somewhere may just be playing his music. These days evenings are spend planning new sounds and melodies, though there is no immediate plan to record another Bit Pixel album. Some might say 20 years too late, we just say better late than never. So if you ever found yourself liking The Pet Shop Boys, Human League, Depeche Mode, Howard Jones, O.M.D, Celebrate The Nun and Erasure, you are going to love Bit Pixel.
Listen (full tracks):
A-Frame Media (CD, digital)
Amazon GER (CD)
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Amazon UK (digital)
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Amazon US (digital)
15th August 2011 (vinyl), out now (digital)
vinyl & digital
(MNDR Nighttime Remix)
(Mark Pistel Dub)
Beat and The Pulse
Beat and The Pulse
(Steffi Bass-Break Dub Remix)
Beat and The Pulse
(120 Days Remix)
(Young Galaxy Remix)
(Mark Pistel Vocal Remix)
(Mark Pistel Funk Bass Remix)
tracks 7 – 10 are digital bonus tracks.
“I don’t think it’s possible for me to write in a major key,” says Katie Stelmanis, co-founder and lead singer of Toronto trio Austra. “I don’t know why. It doesn’t seem to factor in my brain.”
It’s not like the longtime vocalist and producer makes Anton LaVey references or has an austere demeanor. Quite the opposite. But on Feel it Break (Domino, Release Date), Stelmanis, drummer Maya Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf have crafted a dark, danceable masterpiece suitable for both ritual incantations and clubs; an album hearkening back to the sleazier side of New Wave but still deeply rooted in Stelmanis’s classical and operatic upbringing.
This confluence of classical and electronic has been at the heart of Stelmanis’s career before there even was a career. At the age of 10, Stelmanis joined the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus, where she sang regularly for the prestigious Canadian Opera Company. While simultaneously learning viola and piano, Stelmanis pursued a career in opera, studying privately for four years while making plans to study the genre further in college.
A week before school started, with her calling seemingly mapped out, the singer made a decision that would affect her subsequent musical career. “I wanted to stay in Toronto and didn’t want to live in Montreal,” recalls Stelmanis. “So I decided to just not go to college, get a job, save up for five years and go on my first tour.”
Spurred on by her production work for soundtracks for local plays, Stelmanis began immerging herself in electronic music. “I wanted to be able to write music for orchestras and with MIDI, you could just press ‘Record’ and bring up any instrument you wanted,” says Stelmanis. “It took me years to not think of MIDI as a substitute for real instruments and as an actual electronic instrument.” With new obsessions Bjork, P J Harvey and Nine Inch Nails weaving their influence, Stelmanis’s goal was clear: “I wanted to make classical music with really fucked up, distorted crazy shit on there.”
In 2008, after playing with Galaxy for three years, Stelmanis appeared on Fucked Up’s The Chemistry of Common Life and released her debut solo album Join Us. Pinned as goth by everyone in Canada who didn’t entirely know what goth was, the album, written and recorded entirely by Stelmanis, combined dark, yet poppy, synth melodies with the singer’s operatic voice for what Chart Attack called “oddly beautiful and enchanting.”
Through it all, Stelmanis remained fiercely independent, managing every creative, technical and business aspect of her career herself – she embarked on six self-organized tours in the past three years including an opening slot for CocoRosie – all while trying to thrive in a country not exactly receptive to her brand of music. “A lot of people didn’t understand my first album,” she says, laughing. “So I booked my own tour of Europe, where they seemed to be more open. But we were the most DIY you could possibly be. I just figured everything out by myself the whole time. That’s always been my mentality. I was watching bands in Toronto that reached some level of success and they were booking their own tours, so I just thought, obviously I should book my own tours.”
Three years later, Stelmanis’s innate do-it-yourself ethos hasn’t changed, yet with the addition of former Galaxy member Postepski (Princess Century, Trust) on drums and programming and former Spiral Beach bassist Wolf, the singer has created her best work to date. Written primarily by Stelmanis – “Most of the songs are finished in my bedroom,” says the songwriter – and mixed by Damian Taylor (Bjork, The Prodigy, UNKLE), the album rests nicely with your Kate Bush, Bat For Lashes and The Knife albums, but also conjures up the seedier sides of early 1980s British New Wave (think the dirty alleys and after-hours clubs dreamed up by Japan and Soft Cell.) On their first single “Beat and The Pulse,” Austra have created the warmest cold track of the year, a pulsating, synth-driven attack laced by Stelmanis’s gorgeous, towering vocals.
“For me, music should be a release,” says Stelmanis. “I used to write songs with the intention that people would listen to it in their headphones when they needed to escape. Now I keep the same mentality, but also want people to be able to dance and completely lose themselves in a more physical way. If I can emotionally stimulate the mind and the body through music, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something significant.”
“Beat and the Pulse (kool thing Remix)”
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