Do you remember the Ernest movies? Ernest Goes to Camp, Ernest Goes to Jail (didn’t get raped), Ernest Scared Stupid—each of these films featured bumbling Ernest P. Worrell doing exactly what the title promised. It was basic if only in a cheaply satisfying way, but it was and we celebrated it.
By way of some strange, cross-decade symbol warp, let me propose another Ernest film: Ernest Goes Electro. The film will star Ernest Greene, soft-spoken mastermind behind deeply compelling, baby making music machine Washed Out.
The band deserves its own place in the Ernest canon if only for how dead-on descriptive their name is.
I spent my cinco de mayo seeing Washed Out at the Music Box. I assure you, Henry Fonda can rest in peace knowing his name adorns a venue whose walls are festooned with butt trumpeting cherub’s and music that is so goddam Washed Out it could drive one insane.
For over an hour, Ernest and company pitched through a sonic milieu of melody drowning desperately in a flood of synth bass. The only truly distinguishable gems from the set were the final three numbers, his highly praised “Eyes Be Closed”, “Amor Fati” and “Feel It All Around.” Everything else was, pardon the pun, a wash.
The problem here isn’t myopic band naming tendencies, its a larger epidemic of underthought live sound that’s sweeping across music. I’m particularly butt hurt because I spent Tuesday night getting my ear drums blown out again by Crystal Fighters (picture above).
These guys are great, for the record. Somewhere between the syrupy, suspended animation grooves of deep-track 311 and the pressing, kinetic beats of Buraka Som Sistema is this London based fusion outfit’s Star of Love.
Crystal Fighters, like Washed Out, sounds sublime on record. Their studio presence is fantastic. Song dynamics are craftily managed and treatments of space and instrumentation reach a balanced boil that rings with loving precision. So what’s the fucking problem? Why can’t either of these sonically gifted bands and legions more figure this shit out?
1. We’re facing the consequence end of the home-recording/synth platform revolution. Music has gained mightily through new recording techniques and interfaces that give unprecedented access to smaller musicians. If you have some producing acumen and a musical vision you can make a near flawless record for cheap. A good deal of the chillwave movement and slower-BPM electronica are direct beneficiaries of this system.
But its time to pay the butcher’s bill. We’re now dealing with a translation of studio techniques to live performance and the dudes who figured out how to make a recording sound fuckin’ bangarang in their basement haven’t quite tapped in to mixing synths. Hint: It ain’t a bass and it ain’t a guitar. Chances are you’re using conventional gain levels in an effort to pump out thicker, more punishing notes and the result is often less than satisfying.
2. The EDM influence. Maybe the A & R fairies whispered in your ear, maybe you read too many comments on a Cut Copy video or maybe you’ve spent too much time at Coachella, but any way you cut it, dudes, you have the false impression that the only good music is shit you can dance to.
Dancing’s great, but if it means you’re going to take a moody, pensive and fluid recording *cough* Ernest *cough* and try and straighten it out to fit a big bass, you’re a.undermining any integrity to your own music and b. forcing your instrumentation to do things it wasn’t meant to do in the first place.