Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills
Merge Records 2007
Our Ill Wills. I don’t know. I could labour over a theme if I wanted to, something about the Swedish downturn (Kiran Soderqvist, I made this up) but I feel like I’d be overdoing it. How can you sell this record? It’s “four guys and one girl” getting together to make indie-pop, which is pretty much the exact thing you’ve probably heard a hundred times before with a slightly different number-quote. The album art doesn’t really mean anything either, aside from the fact that it’s probably fun to spell out words with international maritime flags. The songs are sung delicately and beautifully- and crafted even better- and that’s the album’s biggest selling point. Songs. Cute, irrelevant songs.
But by god do I love Our Ill Wills, a record as simple, in many ways, as the first records I listened to, ones which were essentially just a collection of songs that captured whatever they wanted to capture in their fleeting minutes. There was no real aching importance once you turned off Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish- it was just Damon Albarn reminiscing over some London days and some very British things indeed- but it was compelling nonetheless. And I don’t live in Sweden, or as the Shout Out Louds point to in “You are Dreaming,” Stockholm, but I assume it works in the same way: Adam Olenius, Bebban Stenborg and co. are chronicling titbits of their lives and then singing them to us. And just like some of the best records, it’s the fact it’s such a collection that makes it so great: songs that are cute and giggly, such as “Impossible,” and songs as foreboding as “You are Dreaming.” It’s a simple, honest record. And that’s an infatuating thing, for some reason.
It’s an indie-pop record, and in fact Our Ill Wills is like the best indie pop records, a sugar-hit even at its saddest, of course, because it’s so ridiculous. It bolsters its themes as high as they can reach, and the music responds: a ***ty fallout with an important friend is retold on “You are Dreaming,” a painfully cold guitar piece that, like any break-up song, tells one side of the argument and tells it convincingly. “South America” is ecstasy for no reason, so it pulls out all the stops and doesn’t bother to explain why, through the interactive sing-along choruses and the unnecessary (but purdy) string arrangements. “Suit Yourself” is Olenius giving a dazzling display of his graceful vocals, “Blue Headlights” is the same for the even more dazzling Stenborg, and hey, “Hard Rain” combines both for something dreamy and something perfect. And that’s the album: it’s dramatic, an emotional outlet for joy, woe, sounding pretty (not so much sounding ugly) but it’s also well crafted, seriously and sincerely assembled stuff. All this, and no hand-claps.
Not much can really be said to validate my love for these Swedes, nor can I really justify them as the reason I know where Stockholm is. Granted I’m not a terrific geographer, but I guess what elevates Our Ill Wills above every other indie pop record I’ve listened to is its theatrical nature, its ability to go from one spectrum to the other in seconds. Even if it’s all twee dramatics, there are so many twists and turns to the people of this cutes-y, delectable quintet: the wholesomely lovesick “Tonight I Have to Leave It” first, the damningly nostalgic “Parents Livingroom” following and the bitter back-and-forth cursing of “You Are Dreaming.” These guys turn from crooning lines as embracing as “why can’t we give love!?” to ones as horrible as “don’t come back to Stockholm no more” in as little space as three songs. Filthy hypocrites, yes, but they love the drama. And all the more better for it, because you don’t have to be on or off for this record. You can have it whenever you want: when you want a good wallow, or, more healthily, a song to celebrate your life and your friends with. Or just a good pop song; you can shut out the romantic lyrics and listen to the xylophones. You can be seduced by vocalist of your choice. And don’t worry about being in the mood, because Our Ill Wills will always be in the mood for you.