Release Date: Feb 26, 2013
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Swedish Pop/Rock
Shout Out Louds have always paired melancholy and noise tastefully. Over four albums and a decade, they’ve tapped a steady supply of sadness set to a backdrop of indie-fine party tunes. Optica is no different, though tinged with the added whimsy that reflecting on a decade in the game brings—and that’s on top of coming from the city with the finest heritage in sad pop: Stockholm.
Shout Out Louds' third album Work was an exercise in businesslike austerity. (Read: nice, but nothing worth sending a company-wide memo about.) Their newest effort sees the Stockholm-based five-piece making up for lost time. Bigger, richer, and more fun than its predecessor, Optica drips with hyperactive lyrics, icy synths, and string arrangements that frontman Adam Olenius giddily described to Under the Radar as "like warm mayonnaise." .
Ever since the energetic thrill ride of their debut album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, Shout Out Louds have applied a coat of icy polish to each successive album, pasting over some of the wild-eyed desperation with a more measured yet no less emotional approach. Released in 2010, Work almost took it too far, with the Phil Ek production verging on bland. For 2013's album Optica, the bandmembers took over the production themselves, and while it's not as lively as their debut, the sound is much punchier and sounds more like the logical follow-up to Our Ill Wills than Work does.
“Disney on drugs”? A record “like warm mayonnaise”? That’s how Stockholm’s Shout Out Louds are underselling their fourth album. Layers of psychedelic brass and pastoral strings create a psych-pop gateau of Tame Impala and The Shins on ‘Sugar’, while ‘Illusions’ oozes the gorgeous gang vibe of Metric or Grouplove. ’14th Of July’ is so Hurts it hurts, and ‘Blue Ice’ mimics Noah And The Whale’s ’80s AOR.
With 2010’s Work, Sweden’s Shout Out Louds attempted a ballsy move: Working with it-producer Phil Ek, the quintet stripped back their swooning, bells-and-whistles indie-pop in favor of a drier, starker, less romantic sound. Problem is, people loved those bells and whistles. The keyboards, the accordions, the strings—they all helped decorate and intensify Adam Olenius’ songwriting.
Review Summary: feels like i'm wearing nothing at all nothing at allOur 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.
Work felt like work, so Optica-- the fourth LP from Sweden's Shout Out Louds-- takes things a little easier. Recorded over a year and a half and produced by the band (with an assist from Radio Dept. affiliate Johannes Berglund), Optica is warm, expansive, and swimming in strings. Judiciously paced, too: Clocking in just under an hour, there's not a hasty second to be found among these dozen tracks.
I’d like to talk about twee pop for a second, because Optica closes the door on it. I first encountered Shout Out Louds through Our Ill Wills, coming at a time in my life where I was actively seeking indie pop, and specifically “so twee” classics. Discovering Shout Out Louds wasn’t a revelation at first – it seemed I’d discovered a band so typical I could only describe it as a number-quote (“four boys and one girl”) and a dismissive description (uh, cute) – but eventually their music made indie pop another useless, variable term that essentially boiled down, once more, to the love song.
It feels fitting to absorb Shout Out Louds’ fourth full-length album, named after the science of light, during the down-right meanest (and darkest) month of the year. As the band’s resident female wrote of Optica and its concept, “Actual doctors prescribe light to us as a cure for ailments and deficiencies. ” This quintet’s prescription for our collective case of the Februaries? Sleek, ’80s-inspired indie pop the way New Order used to do, recorded with hardly any prior rehearsing — a fun first for the group.
Effortless is good, right? Better to have effortless talent than a hard-earned skill that you’ve got to drag through life like some Sisyphean boulder, surely? In pop music, effortless is a particularly prized (and overused) adjective. It has implications not only for the talent of the artist in question, but for the mechanics of the music itself – effortless pop has a way of seeping into the brain’s sonic recesses with melodies that snap into place within seconds, like old friends you’d forgotten you had. Effortlessness has become something of a speciality for Swedish indie-poppers Shout Out Louds since they released their hook-laden debut album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff in 2003.
Last year, when ‘Blue Ice’ snuck out as a teaser for this album, the thinking was all; ‘Boy, is this ever sweet; so smokey, so slick, so very smooooooth. ’ Pitched somewhere between Streets Of Philadelphia and a real sleepy Bowie, it hinted that ‘Optica’ was maybe going to be more than a Shout Out Louds indie pop record, and that was fine and that was great and that was totally ‘Good on you, guys’. The thing is, though, the thing is with Shout Out Louds is that they’re so damn fine at the indie pop.