Within and Without is Washed Out's debut album for Sub Pop and the first chance a wide audience will have to hear Ernest Greene’s brand of dreamy, drowsy synth pop. While many will be drawn into the slickly sweet sound he creates, those who already knew of Washed Out’s work may find themselves disappointed by the glossy, overcooked production. Early singles and EPs had a slightly ramshackle sound built on cheap-sounding synths and Greene's pleading (and buried-in-reverb) vocals; this LP has a sound so shimmery and sleek it slides right through your brain without leaving a mark. The synthesizers sound fresh-out-of-the-box new and the drum machines sound like they were borrowed from an early-'90s electronic group (like Ultramarine, for example); everything sounds so clean and processed. Granted, as it passes through your brain, the effect will be pleasant and often pleasurable since there are no sharp edges to distract you and the melodies are nice enough. The way Greene layers the synths is also pretty and his low-in-the-mix vocals have a tender and yearning quality. Unfortunately, all this pleasantness means there are few hooks or memorable tunes to hold on to -- no songs as catchy or immediately satisfying as the early singles “Feel It All Around” and “Belong,” no songs you will end up remembering once the album ends. Greene’s reliance on texture and the soft, billowing sound of the album mean it’s often not much more than very nice background music that captures the ambiance of a mid-level sushi restaurant perfectly but leaves no lasting impression. While that may sound pretty harsh, there is a place in the world of music for albums that successfully fill the space in your life when you want to hear something nice and don’t want to be overly engaged or challenged. Within and Without will satisfy your needs in that regard, and only those looking for memorable songs or fresh sounds will feel let down.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra