Pitchfork: 5.4 Rolling Stone: N/A Metacritic: 70 Spin: 3/5
Released: February 2010
Play the Game
Candle Burned Out
Throwing Stones [LISTEN]
Four by Four
Show Me Something New
Too Late, Too Slow
Along with The Perishers and Peter Bjorn and John, Shout Out Louds completes a trilogy of good indie rock bands to hail from Sweden (for the size of the country, that’s not bad…and I’m sure I’m missing others). I was first turned onto their sound through a track that was shared with me from their first album, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff: “My Friend and the Ink on His Fingers”. The song really grabbed me, had that great mixture of charm that speaks to both old- and new-sounding eras of music, driven by jangly guitar, a mean harmonica, persistent tambourine, and a refreshingly new vocal style. I still love it. And it’s a damn shame it’s better than every song off their most recent endeavor, Work.
The problem with Work lies not in the sounds, styles and melodies it offers (all of which come across with little to complain about at face value), but in its timing, the material, though perhaps with a sound that would have been a progressive step for indie music a decade ago, today translating to little more than good intentions gone creatively lazy. There’s little in their most recent endeavor in terms of next-stepness, either for relevant music today or the band’s career alone. The album, though pleasant and charming “enough”, serves up much of the same and expected for the sound it aspires to: simple melodies and chord progressions carried by driving electric guitar and bass, complimented by the occasional playful piano riffs. It’s not a convention I enjoy knocking, but for material this recycled and unimaginative, impossible to wholly embrace.
The album starts finely enough with “1999”, opening with repetitive but largely enjoyable bass and Spoon-style piano, frontman Adam Olenius entering into a subdued verse that might hit harder should his vocals carry the punch of Spoon’s Britt Daniel. Louder guitar, tambourine, claps and energetic background vocals bring the first impression to a favorably-paced tone-setter, but one that at first is hopefully far shy of the album’s creative peak.
Single “Fall Hard” taps into slightly more sophisticated material, some of the guitar even resembling Grizzly Bear-like chords, and background that borders on Midlake-esque. Olenius exhibits his same recognizable style of singing, and no complaints there, but his melodies in this one aren’t much more interesting than the sounds surrounding his voice. Other single “Walls” is a slightly more musically enjoyable affair, though nearly its first minute suffers from being too stripped down, a move no doubt intended to “up” its intellectual appeal. After recovering, however, with some driving guitar and playful piano bits, there are chunks that really get your head happy.
“Throwing Stones” has become my favorite off “Work”. Not surprisingly, I realized that the reason lay in its closer similarities with Howl Howl Gaff Gaff’s “My Friend and the Ink on His Fingers”, only with less enthusiasm and barnyard grit. The melancholy chords lend nicely to the vocal melody chosen by Olenius, cascading between lows and highs between guitar riffs possessing the ever-so-slight sound of American twang.
Nearly every other song, unfortunately, lacks either the artistic presence, or, when that’s not enough, just plain old upbeat excitement to constitute a favorable opinion of the entire album’s chemistry with itself or the bands which Shout Out Louds compare to, aside from track #9 which, although upbeat, is too generic to find much value in. Its title, “Show Me Something New”, I’m guessing to be the sentiment of most fans before sinking their teeth into this most recent release, and the title of the following and closing track, “Too Late, Too Slow”, the resulting conclusion.
Higher hopes were only amplified by the fact that the album was produced by Phil Ek (who’s produced Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, and The Shins, all reaping more praiseworthy results). Their record label has stated that the album was trying to “strip away the bells and whistles of previous efforts”…sounds good on paper, but the finished product left me wanting the bells and whistles back. It’s a fine album for setting the pre-party vibe or counteracting indoor rainy-day moods with your groovy friends, but if Shout Out Louds hope to hold onto some legitimate lasting power, their next effort will require more “work”.
Props to the creative album promo below though, directed by Shout Out Louds bassist Ted Malmros, who also drew acclaim for directing Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks” (video here).