Shortly after his first release as Washed Out, Ernest Greene became something of a poster child for chillwave, or even the culture of urban millennials in general—a distinction that became inevitable when one of his songs was used to soundtrack the opening credits of Portlandia. However, as an emissary of a culture that drops trends as quickly as it embraces them, he’s had a surprising amount of staying power, something he’s maintained largely by iterating upon and refining what he’s done before. The music Greene is making now isn’t inherently different in any great sense from his earlier releases. Rather than drifting into different genres, he’s learned to accentuate his strengths as a songwriter while pulling from a broader range of sounds.
Greene had already begun combining live instrumentation with the programmed drums, synths, and triggered samples on his last album, 2011’s Within And Without, but he’s clearly much more comfortable combining the elements now. Where his last record jumped back and forth—one song with computer-driven sounds, another with twinkly xylophones and cellos—everything on Paracosm is a cozy blend. “Don’t Give Up” is perhaps the best example of this, with a live rhythm section buttressing woozy, cascading synths. The song has a beautiful, lush richness to it, and shows off Greene’s knack for textural songwriting. His strengths are most apparent when he’s using simple, tried-and-true structures and melodies, but picking precisely the right tones with which to adorn his arrangements.
At a handful of points throughout the record, a group of voices arise as the music recedes, all laughing, talking excitedly, and beckoning friends to come closer. These voices, combined with the occasional field recording of birdcalls and nature sounds, give Paracosm an air of carefree, breezy effervescence. It feels like a subtle nod to The Avalanches’ seminal 2000 record, Since I Left You, the opening strains of which practically sound like the first few moments of a Caribbean cruise. This feeling of escape also permeates Greene’s record, and his intentions to give the listener a thoroughly transporting experience are laid out right in the title: A paracosm is a dream world so thoroughly realized as to have its own natural laws and languages. Greene is no longer satisfied just to give people some giddy danceable jams for hazy summer nights. He still wants to see them dance, but he also wants them to feel utterly transported while doing so.
By Eamonn Fetherston via A.V. Club