Posts tagged: Swedish

Shout Out Louds – Optica

By , February 27, 2013 12:00 pm

optica

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 Even when Olenius is little more than a withdrawn mumble on “Glasgow,” the band’s golden ear for production pays off, bringing in the lovely Bebban Stenborg for some backing vocals that shoots the melancholia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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Miike Snow – S/T

By , June 9, 2009 12:00 pm

Miike Snow – Miike Snow

Downtown Records 2009

Rating: 8/10

Maybe they’ve been putting something in the water these past few decades, but it seems like ever since ABBA took over the world in the ‘70s Sweden has been a hotbed of wildly addictive pop music, no more so than in this new millennium. From the Cardigans, Robyn, and the Concretes, to Peter Bjorn & John, the Hives, the Shout Out Louds and now production “supergroup” Miike Snow, Sweden’s been assaulting the rest of the world’s charts in their own charming way for years. A little late to the coming-out party but still retaining all the trademarks of Swedish indie pop, Miike Snow combines the songwriting and production talents of Bloodshy & Avant (Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg) with American producer and lead singer Andrew Wyatt. With such an impressive hit-making resumé behind them, it should come as little surprise that Miike Snow is the kind of brain-imprinting electro that gets in your head and refuses to go away.

Given Bloodshy & Avant’s history, working with acts like Britney Spears, Madonna, and Kylie Minogue, the slick beats and sparkling production are par for the course – rather, it’s when the duo turn their talents in the direction of elegantly simple indie ditties that Miike Snow reveals itself as more of a legitimate musical experiment rather than a producers’ vanity project. Single “Animal” sounds like a mix between Vampire Weekend’s staccato synths and MGMT’s layered electronica, bouncing along a deceptively catchy progression to a jangly chorus that hits immediate pop pay dirt. Wyatt’s chameleonic vocals are a highlight from the beginning, imbuing lyrics like “but I’m still trying to make my mind up, am I free or am I tied up?” with unassuming cheeriness. Even on a track like the morbid “Burial,” Wyatt’s expressive vocals never seem to betray a song’s emotion, transforming a piece of immediately accessible pop into a double-sided coin once you take a look at the lyric sheet.

It’s a trick the group pulls of masterfully throughout the record. Songs like the falsetto four-on-the-floor thump of “A Horse Is Not A Home” and the gorgeously grimy techno whirl of “Black & Blue” nail the juxtaposition between Wyatt’s moody lyrics and the irrepressible production. Indeed, much of Miike Snow strikes at the core of what makes pop music great: the ability to tell stories of melancholy and grief while making it sound as joyous and palatable as the most common love song.

For all of Miike Snow’s clear mission to make light, agreeable electro pop, there are more than enough songs that demand closer attention. The most obvious is the six-and-a-half-minute-long haunting ballad “Silvia,” where swirling pools of atmospheric synths, bubbling bass, galloping drums, and Wyatt’s echoing vocals paint a picture of palpable longing. It’s the kind of climactic tune that makes everything after it seem lesser (something not helped by its odd placement as the 3rd song on the album), the undeniable centerpiece of a smart, effective pop record. It’s a testament to the group’s consistency that they follow it up with the exuberant “Song for No One,” with its trebly guitar motif and anthemic chorus, and the aforementioned piano/electronica combo “Black & Blue.”

The second half of the album confines itself more to standard electronica-pop than the fusion of styles in the beginning of the record, and as such suffers from an occasional feeling of “sameness” and songs that never really achieve the kind of affirming lift-off their earlier songs hit with ease. “Cult Logic” and “In Search Of” do have some hard-nosed beats in them, but Wyatt’s falsetto and the song’s contrived faux-disco chorus undo “Cult”, while “In Search Of” comes off as no different from the product of dozens of synth-blaring DJs at any given rave. “Sans Soleil,” on the other hand, takes the slower route to little effect, meandering about a gurgling electro rhythm and indistinct piano chords and leaving no lasting impression.

But Miike Snow finishes strong, particularly the threatening Spoon-esque “Plastic Jungle,” which drenches itself in reverb and shotgun drum blasts, and the tender piano closer “Faker.” Wyatt does his best Beatles croon while the harmonies gently pile up, and the driving piano melody and shimmery synths weave a beautiful lullaby. The song stops on a dime and Miike Snow close the album while in top form, fitting for a trio of men who know the pulse of a pop song as if it was their own and, better yet, know how to resolve all that came before without a hitch. Miike Snow accomplishes everything it sets out to do, creating an intelligent pop record that’s immediately fetching and stacked with hooks, yet ultimately reveals itself as the best kind of pop: the kind with layers.

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