Ernest Greene has had an exciting few years. Two summers ago when Within and Without was released, “chillwave” was a buzzword and Greene was its poster child. Back then, there was something unsettlingly beautiful about his music: the shuffling bass lines and lurching swagger of tracks like “Before” hinted darkly at tension. It was this saturated, late-summer haze combined synthesizer acrobatics that felt both nostalgic and totally new. Paracosm, Greene’s newest, out this month on Sub Pop, builds on this in surprising ways.
Paracosm, first and foremost, sounds expensive. Within and Without was a charmingly intimate homemade-sounding record. Paracosm smacks of studio sessions and a producer with more tricks than reverb up his sleeve. Take the first single, “It All Feels Right.” That’s a strings section you’re hearing, with a harp trill thrown into the intro for good measure. The songs are longer, the sounds are more varied, and the tone is, in most cases, decidedly more upbeat.
There are a couple of standouts. For all of its lyrical shortcomings, “It All Feels Right,” has its redeeming sonic and melodic qualities. “Weightless” stretches Greene’s limits vocally but features the sort of instrumentation that is more than a little reminiscent of Balam Acab’s gorgeous soundscapes. (Full disclosure: this reviewer is a sucker for a good arpeggiated synth.) There’s a lot to work with on Paracosm—it sheds the extraordinary cohesion of its predecessor, and shows that Greene is interested in being more than just “the chillwave guy.”
Of course, the basic elements of chillwave are still intact on Paracosm: lyrics that mean virtually nothing, hazily beautiful synths with fuzzy vocals, and enough low end to ground things. It’s good, if not groundbreaking. Greene seems to know chillwave has sort of jumped the shark: it’s a punch line, relegated to the 2011 archives of indie music blogs. Greene has had the sense to advance his sound rather than rest on his laurels—and this, for Paracosm, makes all the difference.