Posts tagged: Shout Out Louds

Shout Out Louds – Optica

By , February 27, 2013 12:00 pm


Shout Out Louds – Optica

Merge Records 2013

Rating: 6/10

Our late, great Robin Smith called Our Ill Wills “a collection of songs that captured whatever they wanted to capture in their fleeting minutes,” an album “sung delicately and beautifully” and “a sugar hit even at its saddest,” and that’s about as compelling a summary of Shout Out Louds’ wistful, sunset-streaked romanticism as I could ever hope to muster. Smith called them cute and irrelevant, too, but mixed messages aside, Our Ill Wills was a highpoint for Swedish indie pop, for a genre and culture that dominated the blogosphere back when getting a song on an iPod commercial meant something. The craftsmanship and melodicism that made Shout Out Louds the Great Northern Hope has never really abandoned them, but the emotional nakedness that singer Adam Olenius used to drag us through the dirt with him appeared to be left out in the cold after “Hard Rain” ended with thunder in 2007. That’s a shame, too – their last effort, Work, was a pristine, efficient model of indie pop, sparkling in its harmonies and immediate in its hooks but with a production that was cold to the touch. It was the wrong kind of icy northern beauty.

Shout Out Louds’ core aesthetic has always been wrapping up the heartbreak and the grief and the nostalgia, all those pesky human frailties, around a wonderfully warm tapestry of bright, impeccably produced pop. It helps that Olenius yips like the Swedish Robert Smith, but the weight of the world – or the weight of the collective critical shrug that greeted Work – has had its effect. That spirited yelp is more controlled and conversational, a happy voice only on its face but still game; the lilting, Shins-y “Sugar” and the measured disco-rock of “Illusions” start Optica off on the right clog. Even when Olenius is little more than a withdrawn mumble on “Glasgow,” the band’s golden ear for production pays off, bringing in the lovely Bebban Stenborg for some backing vocals that shoots the melancholia through with a vibrant bit of whimsy. Despite doubling down on an electronic sound that pays homage to New Order and washed-out ‘80s dance, Optica feels more lived-in than its uber-professional predecessor, earnest and inviting despite the voluminous, cold soundscapes it inhabits. Glacial first single “Blue Ice” has no right to sound as interesting as it is – a warmed over midtempo ballad, one of many that swoon along to expansive synths and indulge in lyrics cribbed from your high school’s worst closeted romantic – but that lush production is a cosmic joy, painted in the same glorious Technicolor swathes the band’s video for it evokes.

The choruses are huge, the production immaculate, the vocal performances an adequately torn mix of regret and heartbreak and sugary climaxes, yet Optica never really latches on in any meaningful way. The closest it comes is when dissonance threatens to break through and rip that carefully woven tapestry just a little. Stenborg’s brisk turn on the creepy “Hermila,” the hot-blooded “14th of July,” and the antagonistic guitar squawks and discordant synths that twist through closer “Destroy” like the ghost in the machine all stand out mainly because they demand the facade let its guard down for a second, to let those emotional cracks reveal themselves in more than just the lyrics. It’s a paradoxical situation for Shout Out Louds – the better they’ve gotten at refining their craft, at writing the perfect chorus and combining them seamlessly with organic, vivid sonics, the further away they’ve gotten from the wounded empathy that drove their earlier records. At least ice burns. Optica too often feels like nothing at all.

Shout Out Louds took their time with these songs, recording for about 1.5 years in a small Stockholm studio and producing themselves for the first time with help from Johannes Berglund. A theme emerged and Optica was born, an album celebrating color and light from a band confident in its sound.
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Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills

By , January 10, 2011 8:00 am

Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills

Merge Records 2007

Rating: 10/10

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.

Shout Out Louds – “You Are Dreaming”

Shout Out Louds – Work

By , February 18, 2010 12:00 pm

Shout Out Louds – Work

Merge Records 2010

Rating: 6/10

Whether it’s their effervescent boy-girl harmonies, lead singer Adam Olenius’ Robert Smith via Sweden accent, or merely their completely innocent, inoffensive image, Stockholm five-piece Shout Out Louds have never really been able to differentiate themselves from the wave of indie-pop bands seemingly pouring out of the Great White North since ABBA. Even after their second album, 2007’s wonderfully multicolored Our Ill Wills, the band was continually relegated to One Tree Hill-background status, while arguably less-talented bands like Peter Bjorn & John hit the mainstream with some nifty whistling. Work, then, seems like a middle finger to the rest of the industry that has largely ignored them, its laughably serious cover and simplistic title a brazen sign to the world that they’re here to work, by God! It’s stripped down and remarkably focused compared to their previous two efforts, and producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, the Shins) brings out the indie big guns. It’s unfortunate, however, that it’s this single-minded directive that turns Work into a bit of a regression of their sound.

Our Ill Wills was a wildly sprawling affair, one that dabbled in South American bossa nova as often as it cribbed from ‘80s new wave, but it was the band’s undeniable heart and Olenius’ often emotionally bare performances that made it one of the finest examples of Northern indie pop. Here, nostalgic opener “1999” sets things up perfectly for a dynamite sequel, with its verses mourning “how can I forget the nights we killed / every summer night / you know the sun never sets around here / that is what we wake for up here” while Bebban Stenborg’s lovely soprano colors in the borders and a yearning guitar line completes the sepia-toned picture. But follow-up “Fall Hard” is an immediate letdown, rote Cure-ish synth-rock with an admittedly money chorus that still lacks that certain emotional punch, that red-blooded fire that makes “1999” hit so hard and what made their last record so affecting. It’s a problem that continues in first single “Walls,” where the muted climax makes the slow buildup that preceded it completely lifeless. Frankly disturbing, actually, is that more than a few of the songs here take the titular noun to heart a bit too much, mid tempo slush like “Four by Four” or the aimless atmospherics of “Candle Burned Out” missing that indefinable passion; missing any sort of authentic feeling, really.

It’s these half-hearted attempts that make the successes on Work so striking when they do hit the mark. Songs like “Play The Game” and the hypnotic “Moon” are veritable Shout Out Louds classics, taking the slow burn idiom that they mastered on Our Ill Wills and elevating them, whether it be with ethereal guitar melodies, the haunting addition of strings, or Olenius’ on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown intimacy. Just as effective is the rave-up of “Show Me Something New,” which harkens back to their high-octane debut, or the riveting, anthemic “Throwing Stones,” where the band actually sounds happy to be living the dream and not so damn heartbroken. It’s these kinds of songs that make it seem near criminal that Shout Out Louds were never able to achieve the sort of exposure of a PB & J or even the Hives, and matches up the best aspects of the group’s sound: namely, swooning, sugary melodies via synths and guitar and Olenius’ distinctive, confidential vocal style.

And then the album closes out with a shimmering mess like “Too Late, Too Slow,” a jumble of fuzz and whispery vocals that never really rises above its self-created muddle, and you wonder what happened to the balls-out band of the past. Work is not a bad album by any measure, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience for any fans of the genre. But as the third album for a band that seemed to be destined to make the jump from merely great to one of the landmark acts, it’s a definite step back, one that seems content to work within the boundaries of its influences and journey out only for the occasional track. In other words, it too often sounds like just work for the sake of Work.

Shout Out Louds – “Fall Hard”

Work is the third full-length from Sweden's Shout Out Louds. Produced by Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Shins), Work strips away all of the bells and whistles of previous efforts to showcase the band doing what they do best, writing and playing pop music that is "nostalgic and angst-ridden, but ultimately life-affirming. Shout Out Louds have found a winning formula." (
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