Some music begs to be the center of your attention, while some intentionally functions as a subconscious backdrop. Ernest Greene, the chillwave pioneer who records as Washed Out, plays with the attention spectrum of the listener with a masterful manipulation of tempo, blurry vocals, and subtle tension in his music.
Mister Mellow, Washed Out's newest release on the Stones Throw label, shows Greene taking a slightly different approach than his past work, with a limited adherence to pop sensibilities. The record plays like a kaleidoscope of soulful house, jazz, psychedelic, and dance music, interspersed with unusual samples of spoken words, crowd noise, and other sounds taken from a variety of sources including YouTube videos and vinyl records. The album as a whole resonates like a DJ mixtape with elements of a Karlheinz Stockhausen sound-collage piece.
The tracks blend into one another seamlessly to create a hypnotic sequence with tension and release. While songs like "Hard To Say Goodbye" and "Floating By" provide an easy, passive listening experience at some moments, "Burn Out Blues" and "Get Lost" are more aggressive and suitable for a sweaty dance floor. "Zonked" and "Million Miles Away" are hypnotic tracks that push the boundaries of the mellow aesthetic with disorienting production.
The lyrics operate as an emotional survey of psychological disillusionment, featuring themes of mental escape, passivity, personal frustration, and the general high-stress environment of contemporary society. The line "I've been daydreaming my entire life" flashes across the screen at the 11:20 mark, and the lyrics consist of lines like, "Yeah man I've just been taking some time off, to literally get my head right... just figure out things... just think about stuff man," and, "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... it's all the same day. I wake up, I go to work, and I try my best to just forget about everything that's bringing me down." Those lines interact with the mellow music, offering a dose of anxiety relief.
The long form visual component, as shown above, is artistic and captivating. It juxtaposes reality with colorful animation and pop art. Images of plush retro car culture with portrayals of social conformity and anonymity. The video also features several idyllic beach visuals that manifest a warm sense of nostalgia in the viewer.
The music and the video are so well matched that they push each other to new heights. As a bonus treat, the video also features Saturday Night Live cast member Kyle Mooney as the host of the delightfully awkward Mister Mellow Show, humorously interviewing Greene, which creates a refreshing break between songs.
While Mister Mellow does tend towards obscurity at times, Greene's meticulous attention to his craft still shines through and the record never fizzles out into a dry repetitiveness. The record might be missing a fulcrum of a catchy hit like "Feel It All Around," but Mister Mellow is still sure to be a pleasing listen to both Greene's fans, and those unfamiliar with his work.
Our favorite songs are "Burn Out Blues," "Hard to Say Goodbye," "Floating By," "I've Been Daydreaming My Entire Life," and "Get Lost."
You can buy the album and DVD on Amazon.
For more music and tour dates, check out Washed Out's Zumic artist page.