Coined by psychiatrists, a paracosm is an imaginary fantasy world developed in a child’s mind that can last for a prolonged period of time. Paracosm is also the title of this album and based on its definition, is a pretty apt characterization of the sound that Washed Out creates on these nine tracks.
Washed Out (real name Ernest Greene) is an electronic musician from Georgia. Paracosm is Washed Out’s second full-length album; but before venturing into full albums, he released several well-received EPs that made him extremely popular among online bloggers and critics. His most popular song was and still is “Feel It All Around,” which came from one of his EPs and is best known as the Portlandia theme song. Washed Out became the poster-boy for “Chillwave” a genre characterized by heavy uses of synths, ambient sounds, loops, samples, and a penchant for 80s music.
On Paracosm, Washed Out manages to deviate from his normal modus operandi while still keeping the sound distinctly his. Instead of using samples and loops as in a lot of his past works, Greene brought in a live drummer and bassist; this along with his use of a range of vintage synthesizers gives his music on Paracosm a much warmer feel to it. Luckily, the most important elements of Washed Out’s sound – the cool melodic and groovy bass lines and the reverb-soaked harmonized lead vocals, are still very much alive and well, connecting his older work to the songs on this record.
Going back to the album’s title, Paracosm feels just like being in a fantasy, dream-like world. The different synth sounds used throughout the album give it a kind of warm and hazy yet very colorful quality. The image on the cover of the album is also very colorful, and I guess this is Greene’s way of showing us what to think of when we enter this world.
The intro track, “Entrance,” sets up this idea nicely with the use of chirping birds, xylophones (or vibraphones) bouncing around, and a harp; it really sounds like we’re walking into a fantastic paradise world. Lyrically, the phrase “close your eyes” appears all over the album, as does imagery of flying, like in the song “Weightless.” Towards the end of the album we start getting lyrics about falling, especially in the penultimate track “Falling Back.” The closer, “All Over Now,” reminds us that it’s all a dream and that we eventually have to wake up.
Each track on this album is vivid and very interesting, so my favorite tracks make up almost half the album. If I were forced to pick ONE, I guess it would have to be “Don’t Give Up,” it was one of the singles and is probably the catchiest out of the bunch and it has a pretty cool, trippy video. “All Feels Right,” is a good one and reminds me of The Beatles circa 1967. “Weightless” probably has my favorite chorus of the album, and “Falling Back” has the most energy.
Paracosm is a 41-minute tour of Washed Out’s beautiful fantasy world. It’s a very good album, and it’s a great example of an artist growing and changing his sound while still keeping it HIS sound. The release of this album is perfect timing too because it makes a really good late-summer album, great for lazy summer afternoons. I definitely recommend giving this album a once-over, if you haven’t already, and experience Washed Out’s Paracosm.