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Shout Out Louds

Work

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: Merge Records

For the sake of transparency, I fucking adored Shout Out Louds’ last record, Our Ill Wills. It managed to combine the duskiness of modern folk with brightly-colored (and inherently Swedish) indie pop, resulting in some of the most emotive and truly cinematic pop music in quite some time. With so much of the modern indie world borrowing exclusively from the tongue-in-cheek Pavement, or the hazy nothingness of Ariel Pink, it listens as a well-needed respite of anti-pretension – and at least to me, it’s a hard act to follow. The band’s subsequent effort, Work, unfortunately (yet, expectedly) doesn’t carry the same magnitude of Ill Wills, but it still showcases their knack for honest-to-God songwriting – to the point of carrying one of the best tracks the band has recorded thus far.

That track is the opening “1999,” starting with a rickety carousel-chime and a flushed, clockwork bass – it’s quickly joined by agile piano pierces and a gorgeous descending guitar. Lead singer Eric Edman, in his thick Scandinavian accent, sings about summer, love and youth in its purest of forms – never sinking into the ironic quips his compatriots (Wavves, Neon Indian) thrive on. Like {Our Ill Wills’} first song, “Tonight I Have to Leave It,” it towers over the rest of the record with ease.

Unfortunately, while Ill Wills kept its momentum throughout its 13 songs, Work’s other tracks are much less reverberating. “Fall Hard” begins with an equally beautiful guitar, allowing Edman to sound his disengaged lovesick rigmarole. The hushed “Play the Game” and “Candle Burned Out,” while amiable experimentation into unfamiliar territory, leave a hell of a lot to be desired. In fact, the entire album is much more intimate than their previous work; new producer Phil Ek keeps most of the orchestral flourishes and overall cavernous demeanor that defined Our Ill Wills at bay, resulting in a more ‘live’ sound that was obviously achieved without the assistance of an overt amount of knob-twisting. When it does work, it blows the hinges off, like on the subversive “Show Me Something New” or the aforementioned brilliance of “1999.” But it can also sound like an incredibly hollow version of the deeper Peter Bjorn and John tracks.

Shout Out Louds do have the advantage of having very little to prove to anyone. Despite their outward pop sensibilities, they’ve remained on the gentle cusp of stardom, infiltrating only savvy record collections – and Work is easily equipped to absolutely demolish college radio and iPod ads; it’s just unfortunate that it couldn’t come with their altogether better sophomore effort – but that’s a bit reductive. Despite its shortcomings and potential disappointment, it’s clear that Shout Out Louds owns their sound better than the vast majority of twee-leaning acts out there; sure Work isn’t brilliant, but it’ll certainly gain them more fans than lose them.

by Luke Winkie
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