Updated: Oct 7, 2020
The godfather of Chillwave returns with his fourth studio album. Washed Out's seductive sun-kissed sounds are beautifully produced, featuring a sense of romantic longing like no other.
Chillwave is a genre of dreamy electropop which emerged in the late 2000s in the United States, designed for sunsets, post-night out chilling and coastal sunbathing. One of the biggest names to popularise the style was American 37-year-old singer, songwriter and producer Ernest Green, a man who goes under the moniker Washed Out.
On Friday (7th August) Washed Out released fourth studio album Purple Noon on the renowned Seattle-based indie label, Sub Pop. Though, to say it has received mixed reviews would be a bit an understatement.
With ‘Too Late’ and ‘Time To Walk Away’ receiving heavy streams on my Summer 2020 playlist, I logged on to Twitter on Friday to observe a sea of positive comments about the new album. The moody vibes were being felt. Universal acclaim, or so I thought.
Searching Google for reviews was a different story entirely. An example of this came from Pitchfork who described the record as ‘Balearic-influenced make out jams that sound lush but are mostly empty on the inside’.
The second review down, by the Evening Standard, wasn't any more charitable, believing the ‘surface-level musings (to) lack substance’.
Hardly a good start, but with glowing reviews from music fans rivalling the scepticism of the critics, it was worth a listen to make up my own judgement.
After a few listens the truth revealed both viewpoints to be valid. Purple Noon follows a conventional Washed Out pattern which, if you’re not already a fan, won’t do much for you. The harshest criticism is that it was designed for background listening, featuring a samey and safe sound over the ten tracks.
Despite that, the irresistible mood of the album still ensures enjoyable moments are there to behold. It's easy to see where the critics are coming from, but, what can I say, I was really feeling it on first listen.
Why? Well, it's extremely well-produced; there are smooth Lo-Fi R&B choruses, subtle 80s synths and mid-tempo tropical beats, all set to sun-kissed melancholia. It's dreamy and moody, what's not to like about that?
The most enjoyable track is ‘Time To Walk Away’, a tale of a man questioning whether to continue in a failing relationship (‘I don't wanna fight another day / I'm tired of all the hurtful games we play / I thought we shared a bond that'd never break / Is it time to walk away?’). In true Washed Out fashion, it’s sad and uplifting at the same time. Exactly the style I'm drawn to!
In a Facebook post on 1 July 2020, Washed Out explained why it was one of the favourites to record.
"Time To Walk Away was one of the first songs I wrote for the new album – and in a lot of ways I think it was one of the most satisfying to make. My biggest challenge is often how to incorporate new sonic ideas... while also having the songs remain recognizably Washed Out. Out of all of the material on Purple Noon, I think 'Time To Walk Away' is the most successful with this."
Over the smooth and atmospheric ‘Reckless Desires’, a heartbroken Ernest Green declares that, ‘Now my entire world's gone wrong / Your reckless desires / Keep tearing me apart / It's burning a hole right through my heart.’ A similar tone is found on ‘Leave You Behind’, as he, again, finds himself conflicted whether to end a relationship (‘Can't move on/ I'm lost each time I try/ To leave you behind’).
The whole concept of the album is, rather predictably, about romance, be it lost romance or the desire for a new lover. Ernest is looking for love with a girl he's just met on 'Too Late' and on the groovy 'Paralyzed', his heart is racing for the return of a distant companion.
As such, the tone of the album matches the subject, sounding incredibly seductive throughout. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to finding myself lost in it on more than one occasion.
The benchmark for Washed Out was set by 2009’s EP Life of Leisure, with the dreamy Lo-Fi sounds of ‘Feel It All Around’ and ‘New Theory’ featuring high up on the best of lists for tracks released that year. I still remember hearing it for the first time and it was like nothing I'd ever heard before.
Honestly, comparing both projects perhaps doesn't work out quite as favourably on Purple Noon as you would want. It has to be said that the six songs on Life of Leisure leave a more lasting impression, are easily punchier and more varied than what the new album offers, but Purple Noon still possesses an infectious mood and melody. Some will love it, many won't. My advice? Give it a listen and make up your own mind.
So yes, it's been criticised for lacking substance and variety, but it'll still have you visualising summer days and picturesque sunsets, lying on a lounger sipping on a tropical cocktail. That to me is the sign of a well-produced album.