Is Washed Out just a darling of the blogs? No. The hip-cult music bloggerati surely adore them, but that's not why this Atlanta band is a success.
It comes down to this: Their music is an accompaniment to the love story of the mind.
Yes, Ernest Greene — the band's tentative crooning singer, composer, and keyboardist — did indeed make his initial electronic singles, epic yet intimate, into online and downloadable favorites. He's credited with being a leading voice in what's labeled "chillwave." So much so that when his first album, last summer's Within and Without, debuted, it hit No. 26 on Billboard's album chart and No. 6 on the rock albums chart.
That groundswell surely helped Washed Out pack Union Transfer on Thursday night. "I think this is our first sold-out show of the tour," Greene said to a crowd of young couples, waifish women, and bearded boys who awkwardly sang along with their hero, knowing every word.
But what truly makes this band so adored — Greene's lonely-boy voice (thank his wife, Blair Greene, for some gorgeous background vocals), thumping synth-symphonies, and silver-lining lyrics — is how the music invites romance. Indeed, soundslike romance.
From the slow and spacy whoosh and heavenly harmonies of "Before" to the lovely, narcotizing arpeggios and clicking rhythms of "Hold Out," the entirety of Greene and company's set sounded like the soundtrack to a lost John Hughes film. I mean that in a good way. Hughes' post-teen flicks were filled with romances come and gone, and were ripe with swelling, melodic synthed-up hits from OMD, Simple Minds, Thompson Twins, and New Order, perfectly attuned to the zealously youthful emotions played out on the screen.
You could sense the rapture of a screen kiss as Greene's cotton-candy vocals trilled nervously through the quietly insistent throb of "Far Away." The ooh-wee harmonies and churchy keyboard chill of "New Theory" allowed Greene to assume a boyish, teen-star charm. Playing while maintaining a constant shoulder shrug, Greene made the hammering piano of "You'll See It" into a hypnotic, metronomic pulse behind lyrics about trying and not denying love.
"There comes a time /For all we've got inside /Feel it forming now," Greene cooed through the lullaby of "Soft," a melody so pure the band's determined mix of real and programmed drums almost sullied the tender tune. By the time Washed Out had finished, and the grand final shimmers of "Eyes Be Closed" dissolved in the air, you would have run out of fingers and toes counting the couples sharing kisses in their own private movies.