The Shout Out Louds make passionate music in many forms.
Since 2003, the Swedish indie rock outfit has crafted catchy pop songs out of light garage rock on their debut, “Howl Howl Gaff Gaff,” and clean-cut new wave on their third album, “Work.”
Its latest opus, “Optica,” dives deeper into new wave’s colorful reservoir, embellishing Shout Out Louds’ core style and lead singer Adam Olenius’ animated vocals with a kaleidoscope of textures and touches of reverb.
The stylistic switch from its previous works should impress listeners, not only for how delectable it sounds but also for how removed it seems from Shout’s previous works.
The band’s musicality, while based on smooth pop grooves and feisty drumming, has remained understated for the bulk of its existence. Olenius’ continued thumbing of the same note on “Go Sadness” tells enough of their succinct sound. Clearly eight years within the same stylistic borders was enough though, as “Optica’s” opener, “Sugar,” features a bright splash of syncopated guitars and grooving bass that eventually divulge into a warm, flute-led coda.
Embedded in the melodies and arrangements is a refined feel of the ’80s: the unbridled potency of Hall and Oates, the sappy, emotional timbre of Tears for Fears, and even the haughty expectations of the Smiths, the oft-called pioneers of new wave.
Keep in mind, though, that Shout’s use of the sound, while borrowed (“Blue Ice” in particular sounds like a muscular version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”), brings certain assets of its own to the creative process.
Listening to each track for the instrumentation makes this statement pretty clear. “Glasgow” fuses an accordian-like synth with neon-colored guitar, moody bass notes and rising vocal samples, a swooning melody that gets accentuated by a resonant soundscape interlude.
Also, the amount of ambition effused from “Walking In Your Footsteps” will have some thinking it was a long-lost ballad from “The Breakfast Club” soundtrack, as twitching electronic and heralding drum rhythms surround a bright flute melody that is too sweet to dislike. Nearly every song on “Optica” follows in that stead, bringing a strict devotion to this nostalgic sound while keeping accessibility and its unique flair intact.
“Optica’s” most peculiar development would be Olenius’ vocals and lyrics. He is not much of a singer in all honesty, but he nails the job mainly for his modest variation in tone displayed on these twelve tracks.
Just as much as he can nail the energetic chorus on “Illusions:” “A home is what a heart is/it won’t forget where it came from,” Olenius can still ratchet down to an inviting croon on the smoldering “Blue Ice” and a lofty falsetto on “Circles.”
His normal voice, a wavering tenor, works well as a conduit for the lyrical content.
“Optica’s” music is all about grasping the listener and getting them lost in the utterly danceable beats, but the words transmit a greater yearning, some despondent sense that life will eventually work out, but uncertainty in the “how” or “when.”
“We burn and we burn without a fire,” Olenius and background vocalist Bebban Stenborg softly muse in “Burn.”
He also nails that sentiment in “Walking In Your Footsteps,” over a rather upbeat piano phrase: “It’s where I’m comin’ from, its where you’re goin’/In a dark tunnel, blindfolded,” and in a similar fashion on the jangly “14th of July,” where he describes a delayed celebration, perhaps one for Independence Day, although someone ends up in tears.
The disconnect between the auspicious instrumentation and the ho-hum message has a slightly self-defeating tone but is not altogether uncharacteristic for the genre.
In comparison, Stenborg’s contributions work only in small doses. Her voice moves like a cool breeze in “Illusions,” and lends a thematic vocal base to Olenius’ emotional range in “Chasing The Sinking Sun.”
Yet when she takes center stage on “Hermila,” which features angsty electronic production, her voice sounds just as digital. It only stands out due to how minute and controlled her involvement in the album seems.
“Optica” would not connect in the same way without her, though. The Shout Out Louds bring their love of the ‘80s without the excessive cheesiness.
The combination of Olenius’ yearning vocals and the band’s solid venture and success in this colorful style will recall memories for the young at heart and may elicit anticipation for those on the verge of something great.