Ernest Greene may not have changed much since his debut in 2009, but the world around him has. The chillwave fad has long since petered out; the cultural zeitgeist is more cynical than ever. You could be forgiven for thinking there’s no longer room for Washed Out’s hazy bedroom pop, and if 2013’s Paracosm was your only example, you wouldn’t be wrong. That album felt like a cultural artifact, a relic of a bygone era of pretentious frat parties and weed brownies.
All of this is what makes the genre experiments and visual flair of Mister Mellow a breath of fresh air.
The record has been billed as a “visual album” and plays like Beyoncé on acid. It spans twelve tracks, each with its own idiosyncratic music video: “Instant Calm” features subtle claymation, whereas “Floating By” quotes Norman McLaren’s Pas de Deux in pencil crayon. Spurring the glossiness and hi-fi frequency of most modern music videos, there’s an analogue feel to these images, a handmade craftiness that lends the album an approachable and intimate tone. Each track leads into the next seamlessly, and there’s a completeness to the record that’s satisfying and fulfilling.
Album highlight “Hard to Say Goodbye” is bouncy and blissful, pairing a twisty music video with a disco-meets-Chemical Brothers beat. “I’ve Been Dreaming My Entire Life” aches with nostalgia, depicting a series of photo album snapshots with a blurred out subject. Spoken word interludes like “Time Off” and “Down and Out” bring the album’s low key existential angst into full technicolor. And instrumental “Instant Calm” offers exactly that.
Of course, not everything works. Single “Get Lost” meanders around dancehall drums and tin can vocals, with a papercut music video whose ‘80s satire feels toothless and overdone. Outro “Million Miles Away” is an aimless anticlimax that depicts Greene walking around the city in boring grayscale. Tame Impala-inspired “Floating By” is pleasant but forgettable, and sounds the most like Washed Out circa Life of Leisure.
Greene built the album with a small team of collaborators and artists, and the variety of styles on display feels exhaustive. And much like the videos, there’s a lo-fi, impressionistic vibe to the album that stands in contrast with Greene’s previous, more polished work. He and engineer Cole MGN, whose curriculum vitae includes Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Real Estate, manage to hone in on a sound that feels like a natural progression of Washed Out’s mantra while signalling a departure from the saminess that permeated his previous work.
It’s refreshing to see the visual album template adapt to indie pop without hitting too many speed bumps along the way, and while Mister Mellow may not be revolutionary, it’s an enjoyable record that merits repeat listens, both for its summery sounds and inventive visuals.
Words by Max James Hill