Mister Mellow takes Washed Out’s signature psychedelia and plunges it deep into the vaults of instrumental hip-hop. Many things about his third studio album are consistent with previous efforts; Ernest Greene’s elusive vocals and dreamy production are both out in full force. The instrumentals on Mister Mellow are, however, what make it distinctive and interesting.
Following his first two LPs (2011’s debut Within and Without; 2013’s Paracosm) released via the famed Seattle indie label Sub Pop, Mister Mellow is Washed Out’s first release on Stones Throw Records, widely acclaimed for instrumental hip-hop releases such as J Dilla’s Donuts. Accordingly, Mister Mellow has much more of a head-bopping hip-hop vibe than previous albums.
Though Washed Out has never been a stranger to sampling, his use of breakbeats, bass, and bossa nova on this latest release effectively move him into a new territory. You can hear the instrumental hip-hop influence in tracks like “Burn Out Blues” and “I’ve Been Daydreaming My Entire Life” which remind me of classic Prefuse 73 and MF Doom. For being titled “Mister Mellow,” it’s ironically the least sleepy of the Washed Out albums released to date.
My first exposure was the single “Hard to Say Goodbye.” The track opens with quiet crooning of a jazz quartet that quickly swells into a pulsating melody with pianos, strings and a muted trumpet. Upon first listen I wondered “what am I listening to?” and once I heard Greene’s vocals, I knew the answer. Musically, this is like no Washed Out we have heard before. Dare I say it, Greene’s signature vocals might actually take a back seat on this album. Lyrically, however, his songs are familiar and safe—“Hard to Say Goodbye” ruminates on time wasted and love lost.
Like its predecessors, most songs on Mister Mellow are escapist in nature: “Close my eyes / Forget about the day / Open wide / And float away” (from “Burn Out Blues”). I applaud Greene for his simplicity. Most tracks are short, and the verses are few. This album is barely full-length at a little under 40 minutes.
Accordingly, we learn from this album that Greene doesn’t take himself too seriously. The self-deprecating title “Mister Mellow” refers to his mastery of the chillwave genre. The visual album released by Stones Throw includes comedian Kyle Mooney playing a quasi-brain dead closed-circuit TV show host “Mister Mellow” who is indulging in the psychedelic visuals that accompany the music. As a visual album, it’s more about texture and imagery than it is about conjuring a concrete meaning. Don’t think too hard about it, just feel it all around.
Notable Tracks: “Burn Out Blues” | “Floating By” | “I’ve Been Daydreaming My Entire Life” | “Hard to Say Goodbye”
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