Indie vets Shout Out Louds turn to synths on ‘Optica’
New album is uninspired and overly referential
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 09:03
Swedish indie darlings Shout Out Louds have chosen synth−pop over their previous lo−fi goodness on their fourth and newest album, “Optica,” which was released on Feb. 26. Their 13−song, 55−minute lineup contains interesting, yet predictable tunes, with a couple refreshing and quirky beats.
Lead singer Adam Olenius’ voice has never been much above par, but this is precisely what made the band so endearing when it started out a decade ago. The group’s cutesy lyrics and catchy tunes made for a fun debut album. Shout Out Louds have kept a very similar sound throughout the years, but seem to have made changes based on the evolution of the indie scene. Originally packed with glockenspiels and accordions, Shout Out Louds’ songs have now picked up Moogs and other synths to match the indietronica craze of the 2010s.
“Optica’s” super catchy opening song, “Sugar,” is full of both old and new Shout Out Loud characteristics, most notably the introduction of reverb and echo effects that contrast with the minimalist sound on their 2003 debut, “Howl Howl Gaff Gaff.” Unfortunately, something in this change has made even the most uplifting and bouncy tracks on “Optica” come off as apathetic and mild.
The quirkiness of songs like “Illusions” and “Walking in Your Footsteps” is interesting at first, but quickly loses steam. The former begins with a riff similar to Yeasayer’s “O.N.E.” and transforms into a combination of Neon Indian and ‘80s pop. The latter has a very Architecture in Helsinki sound that segues into a romantic Rosebuds tune. “14 of July” is like a dancier version of something Arcade Fire would have made circa 2010.
The fact that Shout Out Louds draw easy comparisons from fellow indie bands would not only suggest that they are referential, but also that they seem to be just a bit behind the times. This album does not sound like it was made for 2013. Not every band aims to match the contemporary sounds of its era, but every good band is able of bringing a modern and original aspect to whatever sound or genre it attempts to capture. Shout Out Louds may have accomplished this in their early days, but fans are left wanting more with their newest album, “Optica.”
Olenius’ fairly monotone voice makes otherwise interesting songs like “Glasgow” a little less stimulating. There are countless bands out there with “weak” lead singers — fellow Swede Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist from The Hives in particular — that pair their vocals to their sound correctly. In Almqvist’s case, The Hives play fast and fun songs that allow for his screams and scowls to be the perfect driving force behind the band. In Olenius’ case, Shout Out Louds are very hit or miss when it comes to pairing vocals to specific tracks. On the other hand, songs like “Where You Come In” have the proper balance of a high−pitched and dreamy backdrop that allows for Olenius’ voice to shine through.
The ninth song off the album, “Hermilia,” features lyrics by female band member Bebban Stenborg. She mostly appears on backing vocals, but her song is one of the strongest on the album. Like The Apples in Stereo, the female singer’s voice is airy, delicate and beautiful, which offers a nice contrast to the male−dominated vocals on the rest of the album.
It is clear that Shout Out Louds have been doing something right during the past ten years, but unfortunately, this time around the combination of repetitive lyrics and emotionless riffs makes for a less than exceptional album. Nevertheless, no song on “Optica” goes unnoticed. After multiple listens, you might just find a small gem in this overall unspectacular lineup.