Washed Out's 'Paracosm': What the Critics Are Saying

5:30 PM PST 08/13/2013 by Ian Bernstein

"Chill wave" poster boy Ernest Greene returns with his second album to somewhat mixed, but mostly positive reviews.

For his second album, Ernest Greene, better known by his stage name, Washed Out, looks to climb the charts even higher than his critically praised debut, Within and Without, which peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 in 2011.

A cohesive introduction to “chill wave,” the album included the song “Feel It All Around,” which doubled as the opening theme to the IFC show Portlandia.

For his new album, Paracosm, Greene once again teamed up with producer Ben H. Allen. Out today, the sophomore effort is receiving mixed but mostly positive reviews. Read on for what the critics are saying.

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In an interview with Billboard, Reggie Ugwu points out the first-time use of the artist's Southern roots (Greene is a Georgia native), noting that, while he tried to escape that sound on Washed Out's previous works, he “actually sampled some of his parents’ ‘70s Southern rock records on his new album.” Greene goes on to say, “I’m sure if my 15-year-old self saw what I was doing, he’d probably think I was a sellout.”

In a concise review in Rolling Stone, Caryn Ganz, seems pleased with the artist’s transition into more “organic” sounds, making for “slightly brighter, more pastoral vibes.” She notes the LP’s “dreamiest tune,” “All I Know,” as “a nostalgic stunner that glows like a jar of fireflies,” as she awards the album 3.5 out of 5 stars.

In a slightly more critical review, Spin’s Stephanie Benson compares Greene to another electronic artist who feasts on the creations of atmosphere fused with pop, Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers. She describes how “each track bleeds into the next with seamless precision,” but how “soon enough, these songs all start to sound the same.” She concludes by lamenting “the ‘feeling’ he’s so desperate to convey too often gets submerged” in the “beautiful ocean of noise” he creates. She gives the album a respectable 6 out of 10. 

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Alexis Petridis of The Guardian heaped praise on Greene’s sophomore effort, rewarding the album an impressive 4 out of 5 stars. Petridis notes the ambiguity of Washed Out's chosen direction, neither too close nor too far from his debut. Rather, “it subtly shifts the boundaries in a way that makes you intrigued to hear what he does next.”

In a long-read review, Consequence of Sound’s Zach Schonfeld describes the difficulties of following up a successful debut album, by either being called a has-been, or the risk of looking like you’re running away from labels and the past. Based on this, Schonfeld feels “Paracosm is forthright in its intent, but to mixed success. Its weaker moments still resemble second-rate Within and Without outtakes.”

Rewarding Paracosm a fair 7.4 out of 10, Ian Cohen of Pitchfork feels the album “possesses more texture, partially attributed to the presence of a live rhythm section,” but its “diversity leaves its individual songs subject to more scrutiny than they were on its overly cohesive predecessor. The moods are easy to dismiss, and you can call it a guilty pleasure, or you can just take this accessible escapism at face value and just feel it.”

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