Ernest Greene seemed like he was finally about to turn a corner on 2017’s Mister Mellow. He switched labels, moving from the long-running Seattle indie Sub Pop to the more beat-oriented label Stones Throw, and shapeshifted samples from crate-digger classics, resulting in an album that felt plucked from the speakers at some chic beachside bar. He wasn’t shattering zeitgeists or anything, but he’d roughed up and tripped out his sound a little bit, creating an album that felt properly realized. His new record, Purple Noon, has Greene back at Sub Pop and opting to make a more streamlined album of innocuous makeout jams; background music that you can put on and forget about. The resulting record is one that feels distilled, extraordinarily meandering, and sometimes too chill even for Greene, the godfather of chillwave.
A great Washed Out track is one that rejiggers and reimagines otherwise forgotten dance music. Usually this means some combination of sleazy Italo Disco, cultish disco tracks, and funk from the ‘70s and ‘80s. On Purple Noon, Greene seems most interested in yachty Balearic pop, and the results are mixed. “Face Up” is laden with plenty of oohs and ahs, cavernous bass, and whopper-sized production flourishes, the blue-eyed song is sterile, and feels true to its Balearic inclinations. There is, however, something unusually anesthetic about the song; it feels impersonal, hollow, and noxiously relaxing. There is little to no scaffolding here, and the track gives off the vibe of a muzak playing in an empty office building.
Greene has always been a bit of an impressionistic songwriter, writing short, simple morsels of verse. Most of these songs are about the dissolution of a mercurial relationship with a lover. On “Paralyzed,” he sings about their amazing chemistry, and how much he longs to see her again. “Each time I think about/You doing those things that drive me wild/Makes me go crazy at the thought,” he coos, like a lost member of the Rat Pack, over a celestial synthesizer and a lazy drum machine loop. The pulsating “Reckless Desires” is meant to be listened to while wearing a pair of boat shoes with a coupe of champagne in hand. Pretty to the touch, Greene isn’t sure what to do about his love interest once again. “You find yourself in someone’s bed again/The lies begin to start/And our story falls apart,” sings Greene tearfully. The statement conveys a sense of intense longing, but there is such a lack of substance in the details.
Purple Noon is missing that joy of discovery that makes Greene a compelling artist. He is at his best when he takes elements of eclectic music from the past and bounces them off his otherwise relaxing sound beds. He shines when he successfully reinterprets the music he is excited about, and that does not happen at all on this record. Diving into Balearic music here seems too obvious for Greene, there is not enough high-contrast tinkering for the results of this record to be anything other than expected. On his past records, Greene has mixed oil and vinegar together, creating music with a satisfying difference in density that might be chill but is never boring. What we have on Purple Noon is more like the product of mixing two different tomato sauces together and then adding a dash of some vaguely horny, cursed relationship drama into the mix. Over a decade into his career, Greene is more than capable of producing technically interesting music that comes across as deceptively simple. Unfortunately, Purple Noon falters and feels too safe and lacking in substance.
Buy: Rough Trade
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