MISTER MELLOW by Washed Out
Genre: Chillwave, Dream Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Floating By,” “Instant Calm,” ‘Million Miles Away”
Every time I see a new release from a chillwave artist post-chillwave, my first urge is to cringe. Though the genre has been a joke for the better half of the 2010s, Ernest Greene, the man behind Washed Out and chillwave’s flag bearer, has found a way to successfully detach himself from the ridiculousness of the fad that launched his career, becoming one of the most successful indie electronic artists of the decade. Washed Out’s latest album, MISTER MELLOW, is a trippy and refreshing dance album that will likely become the indie community’s nocturnal soundtrack of the summer.
Though not a chillwave album, MISTER MELLOW is more similar to Washed Out’s debut album WITHIN AND WITHOUT than it is to the gorgeously tropical sophomore album PARACOSM. One of the album’s most telling distinctions, however, is the label it was released on. MISTER MELLOW is released on hip hop mainstay Stone’s Throw, while its predecessors were released on Sub Pop (a label whose signees share a less cohesive sound than those on Stone’s Throw in recent years). While MISTER MELLOW is not a hip hop album, its production is similar to that of artists like Madlib and J Dilla, employing glitchy samples and swirling sound effects frequently utilized by the aforementioned production legends. The track “Get Lost” best exemplifies this sonic shift and is mostly defined by its lengthy outro, which is backed by clattering percussion, chaotic horn samples, and murky voices. Though it is certainly an interesting new direction, it also sacrifices many of the elements that have allowed Washed Out longevity despite the overtly “indie boy” stigma that surrounds his career.
The album also falls flat lyrically, by which I mean that almost none of its lyrics are distinguishable or noteworthy. Though this was one of Washed Out’s defining elements during the project’s chillwave years, PARACOSM saw Greene displaying more strength as a lyricist and singer. MISTER MELLOW’s vocals are so mumbled and shrouded in effects that they are almost entirely indistinguishable, and though they are never unpleasant, they are often so unobtrusive that the songs become boring. The album’s second single “Hard To Say Goodbye” is a perfect example of the album’s oral ambiguity. The track is relatively strong nu-disco until Greene begins singing in a dull and indecipherable baritone that takes the song from pleasantly propulsive to lackluster. While it is definitely not an offensive faux pas, it is kind of a bummer. This bummer is not confined to “Hard To Say Goodbye,” and is sadly a recurring theme on almost all of the album’s tracks.
The album also boasts a relatively minute number of actual songs. It clocks in at just under half an hour, and only five of the album’s 12 tracks feature Greene’s vocals. Though it ultimately feels like Greene was being lazy as a songwriter, the project’s instrumental moments are often its strongest. The track “Instant Calm” is MISTER MELLOW’s finest moment, featuring a perfectly locked, half time groove topped with gloriously warped electric guitar noodling. It is Stone’s Throw Washed Out at its best, effectively pulling from both wonky hip hop and chillwave. “Instant Calm” is followed by another standout instrumental, “Zonked,” which fuses dance and sampladelic to create something both bizarre and breezy.
As a whole, MISTER MELLOW is nothing to write home about, but Washed Out’s career is still impressive. While the majority of indie bands in the early 2010s were relevant less than two years, Washed Out is on his fourth popular release. In an era where music feels evaluated by its trend more than its artistic merit, Washed Out has found a way to distance himself from the cloud of buzz that he rode in on. While the majority of his chillwave peers disappeared into Hipster Runoff oblivion, Greene has managed to release three distinctive and eclectic full lengths on two legendary labels. Though THE MISTER MELLOW SHOW has a number of flaws and is by far Washed Out’s weakest release, it is still an important career milestone and a reminder to independent artists that their careers are not defined by what’s in style, but by their creative potential. Even with its shortcomings, THE MISTER MELLOW SHOW validates the notion that with persistence and ingenuity comes success.