South Carolina has never really been the most fertile ground for exciting new music. Iron and Wine has his moments, Hootie and the Blowfish are probably no-one’s favourite band, and as for Crossfade, Stretch Arm Strong and the charmingly named Through The Eyes of The Dead; well…who?
This looks set to change as 27-year-old Ernest Greene – perhaps better known by his moniker Washed Out – has turned more than a few heads towards South Carolina with his mixture of lo-fi tones and sleepy summer haze. Riding the annual wave of new-band hype and tipped by publications from Pitchfork to NME, as a Music Industry scrum descends, what is it that makes Washed Out’s music such a draw?
Initially solely released on much sought-after vinyl and cassettes (yes, really), Washed Out’s first EP, August 2009’s ‘Life of Leisure’, recently got Digital Release on New York label Mexican Summer. Track after track of dizzy lo-fi evocations – like the gorgeously woozy single ‘Feel It All Around’ -lilt along in a glorious stupor like the Jesus and Mary Chain had they been raised in California rather than Kilbride.
The target audience are pretty clear; with EP names like ‘High Times’ and ‘Life of Leisure’ it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to make this the soundtrack for any half-baked slacker Saturday. The appeal however, is much broader than these smoky confines. A meeting of influences both organic and tumultuous, High Times and Life of Leisure both inhabit a curious breach where raw-edged synth pop meets sun-bleached haze. Although perhaps when High Times’ ‘Olivia’ wanders brazenly through the sounds of the 1980’s and comes out sounding terrifyingly like Kajagoogoo, it’s all gone a bit too far. Thankfully the adoption of 80’s elements is often exacted with much more subtlety.
In fact, Washed Out’s sound is generally a much more precise affair than the ‘No-Fi’ tag on his Myspace might suggest. His bleary-eyed EP’s are muffled and crackle with grainy static, but this isn’t a case of sloppy technical skills, rather a meticulously calculated sound exacted through use of sub-standard equipment. The perished sound quality does nothing to hinder tracks, instead adding an odd sort of timeless quality that bolsters tracks like the twinkling ‘New Times’, the cop-show groove of ‘Yeah’ or the hypnotic shimmer of ‘Belong’.
Whilst it will be easy for some to dismiss the low quality of the productions as the mark of a low-quality artist, the tone never feels inappropriate or forced. With its blend of warm 80’s pop and the raw edged experimentation of the Velvet Underground, High Times and Life of Leisure both instead trigger the sort of effortless summer reminiscing that makes Washed Out’s soft-focus nostalgia feel so incredibly personal.
Visit Washed Out’s Myspace HERE