That lad Karl Marx had a theory. Base and Superstructure: base being substance, tangible qualities and processes upon which society depends; superstructure being the system that grows out of the base and deduces profit from effort. Now, obviously, a man like Marx saw the superstructure as nothing but a superfluous abstraction used by the ruling classes to exploit the proletariat and deny them the fruits of their labour, but Ernest Greene thinks differently. For one thing, the man better known as Washed Out is a twentysomething hipster born, raised and living in late-capitalist America, but he also finds great beauty in contorting the sonic superstructure he creates, even if his music bears little substance on an elemental level.
At its heart, Greene’s second album, Paracosm, is more indebted to late-60s pop and psychedelia than its predecessor, 2011’s underwhelming Within and Without, and bound together by a shimmering ambiance that washes over the listener, as constant and inevitable as it is entrancing.
‘Weightless’, for instance, starts off with an atypically precise beat but expands its range with lashings of echo and reverb, distorting its core and reconfiguring itself into something greater. ‘It All Feels Right’ and ‘All I Know’ begin on similarly simple terms, acquitting themselves as charming, upbeat numbers long before they are consumed by the Washed Out superstructure and rendered anthemic on a larger scale.
Opener ‘Entrance’ is quick to establish the album’s dream logic. It sounds as if its meant to be sleep-inducing, with both its lullaby-like keys and animal/nature noises. Otherwise, the album develops at a noticeably fluctuating pace over nine track and 41 minutes; sometimes giant tonal leaps are made between songs, while other tracks fold into one another without a fuss.
The final trio of songs are all of a piece and make for the Greene’s strongest work since the 2010 single ‘Belong’. The use – and manipulation – of synths on Paracosm is quite stunning but more so on this closing triumvirate. Greene creates a ceaseless wave of aural delight that flows with fantastical implications.
On the title track, his foggy vocal is subdued and the guitars are kept low in the mix, allowing the wave to wash over unrestrained. It feels relieving. ‘Falling Back’ is more reference-heavy, with nods to the ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’ and the production of Phil Spector thanks to its booming drums. It has an inherent, sleepy sweetness that bonds nicely with the superstructure, while closer ‘All Over Now’ again facilitates an awesome barrage of sound that hides a lovely indie-pop core.
The superstructure was an oppressive and hegemonic concept; it was meant to be repeated and brazenly implemented for the benefit of the few. The work Greene does on Paracosm could just as easily be copied by countless pretenders and even himself. Long, lackadaisical synth lines come as standard with almost every song on the album, and yet, by some stroke of luck, they do not lose their lustre. This template may not prove as effective next time out, but Paracosm sounds just like its title suggests – a meandering voyage into a fantastical world full of natural and musical wonder.