For their fourth album, Stockholm-based Shout Out Louds tried that common “take a step back in order to take a step forward” approach so often attempted by artists stuck in a rut. Although 2010’s Work found Adam Olenius and Co. playing to some on some of their biggest and brightest stages, the vibe just didn’t seem to gel, and the band’s brightly colored musical palette turned a bit more muted and ill fitting. So, naturally, new release Optica, lets the sunshine back in; coming forth with sharp melodious hooks, shimmering dream-like harmonies, and richly textured production values; carefully thought over, and designed to counteract the plodding nature of their last album. It all sounds meticulously crafted and well intentioned, the result of a year and a half in pursuit of a particular sound and design.
The labors breed some good things, particularly the doses of ‘80’s synth homage in “Blue Ice” and mid-album highlight “Glasgow” and the same era’s John Hughes film-worthy choruses in “Burn” and “Walking In Your Footsteps”. Many of the tracks have that film-score quality to them that beg for inclusion in those pseudo-dramas that populated the Reagan years. They’re catchy and hummable, but the flip side is their general lack of staying power. Olenius and sometime lead vocalist Bebban Stenborg never seem to say much of anything interesting or memorable. There are several lazy rhymes, too many repeated choruses about “running/fading/drifting away”, and lots of adolescent yearning that a band the age of Shout Out Louds should probably be past by now. The album’s 12 tracks (or 16 if you have the bonus version) sound nice and make for a pleasant listen, but with too many songs in similar tempos and too many lyrics failing to matriculate, there’s not a lot here that lodges to memory.
At this point, Shout Out Louds are a nice and reliable band, but listeners should probably know what to expect. They’ve reveled in the same tones and moods that were first introduced with their debut release, 2005’s very fine Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. Instead of slightly shuffling the deck, an element of surprise and a more mature thematic arch would better serve future releases.