According to Wiki, “A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world, or fantasy world, involving humans and/or animals, or perhaps even fantasy or alien creations. Commonly having its own geography, history, and language, it is an experience that is often developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time: months or even years.”
The above definition sums up the album Paracosm by Ernest Greene, otherwise known as Washed Out, which begins with the sounds of birds chirping and a harp being plucked whilst faint synth plays way off in the background during “Entrance.” The trippy track bleeds into “It All Feels Right,” a warm, otherworldly tune that would seem to split the difference between Air and M83. (It’s like the former’s “Playground Love” meets the latter’s “Midnight City.” ) It’s an ironic title for a song that is essentially the sonic equivalent of watching the color patterns in a kaleidoscope go in and out of focus. This time around Greene and returning producer Ben H. Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter) use more organic sounds, including live drums here, but not without plenty of studio wizardry, like making the various synthesizers during this song sound like they’re constantly fading in and out. It’s almost like listening to a cassette tape that is being eaten by its player (something our younger readers have probably never heard). “Close my eyes / Think about the old times / What’s it all about? / The feeling when it all works out,” Greene ponders as the song nears its conclusion. Those lyrics are the only words that are easy to decipher during the song, which hushes the vocals to the background, just as Greene and Allen did on Washed Out’s previous album, Within And Without. I really have no idea why they’d do that, but it’s clearly a stylistic thing that pleases them. In fact, there are voices — people talking — at the end of “It All Feels Right,” which bleeds into “Don’t Give Up,” the voices continuing for nearly 20 seconds, not that you can understand them. If you’re like me, you’ll turn the volume way up and try to make out what they’re saying, but it’s no use because the louder you turn your stereo up, the louder that the music the voices are encased it becomes, so they’re still drowned out. But once the voices shut up, “Don’t Give Up” proves to be one of the album’s best tracks and has a nice, groovy R&B vibe, though the layers of synth and airy vocals are still rather chillwave. Oddly enough, its chorus ends up paying homage to the previous track: “Even though that we’re far apart / We’ve come so close / And it feels so right.” Unfortunately, the voices do return later in the track, but there’s more going on musically at that point, so they’re not so frustrating. And the more you listen to the album, the more the voices simply add mystery to it, rather than being a nuisance.
Things get even trippier when you reach “Weightless,” the album’s light centerpiece that would seem to try to elevate the listener to a higher consciousness. Although it has a subtle drum machine beat and a groovy bassline, the various synths and vocals are still airy enough to make one feel like one is floating on a magic carpet if one listens closely and tunes out the outside world. It would seem intended to hypnotize the listener like that with its refrain, “Forget about the pain / Leave it all / And start again.” I think critics use the word narcotic to describe songs too often, but this is a case where I feel it’s truly merited. I don’t think a song possibly could be more narcotic than this opiate-like daydream of a tune.
Either you’ll be tripping out in a state of bliss or your patience will be wearing thin by the time you arrive at the title track, “Paracosm,” which feels like sci-fi film score with its layers of new and old synthesizers and sublime drum beats. It left me feeling as though someone was pouring cool water over my head. Not the worst feeling in the world, but not a sensation I normally experience when listening to music. I guess that’s the wave in chillwave?
Clearly, Greene and Allen have done everything possible to ensure that the album lives up to its name. It actually is a veritable paracosm, taking one on a journey to a magical, fantasy world. And it’s a nice place to visit even if Greene chooses to keep some parts of it secret, like the voices we’re apparently not permitted to understand.