You can either think of the Shout Out Louds as really good fashion models, or Dickensian orphans. Your pick.
A model isn’t a body that clothing hangs off of; s/he works to figure the clothing as art. Imagine moving your body as a frame- simultaneously making your features, angles, juttings accentuate the fabric you’ve been dressed in, while also appearing as a human, letting anyone who is watching you think “that could be my body. I could see myself in those clothes.”
Or maybe this: “Pip, you little demon. Clean the floors, wax all the windows, feed the dog and then perhaps you’ll get some gruel.” Pip knew the headmaster was cruel but never did he think the man was capable of withholding food. The headmaster might have thought this was a day’s work for a young child, but he didn’t know Pip.
If Pip could clean the floors of Brasseye the pirate’s ship in the middle of a gale, cleaning the headmaster’s floors was no trouble. Pip remembered the days he had spent dangling outside the Hartfordshire Cathedral by fishing line, waxing the stained glass windows of the sanctuary as the mean old deacon shouted his voice hoarse- “PIIIIIP! YOU MISSED A PANEL. DO IT AGAAAAAAIN.” The windows would be easy peasy. And how could Pip ever forget the countess’ exotic animal collection- her pythons and pygmy piranhas? Surely he could handle feeding a little…make that a giant dog, growling at Pip as thought he were made of sausage links. Still pip would take the dog over a snake, any day. The headmaster had clearly never met one of Pip’s stock before.
What I’m trying to talk about is adaptability. The Shout Out Louds are a Swedish band, active for about 10 years, who you’ll know by the plushness of consonants and diphthongs cusping out of singer Adam Olenius’ mouth, not to mention the able, amiable band who support him. Other than those constants, things change album to album. More than most other bands, The Shout Out Louds cede a lot of control to the people they work with in the studio. And more than any band that cedes as much control as The Shout Out Louds do, the group’s output remains high quality, varied, and yet still, thanks to those vocals and those straight-to-the blood choruses, still distinctly their own.
The group’s first album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff was produced by Ronald Bood, who, since then has gone on to helm the boards for winners of the Swedish Idol and Eurovision contests. However, the album is not full of cold, crafted Swedish pop songs. Bood doesn’t heap on studio trickery. Instead, he throws everything he has at the mixing board, accenting every plink of glockenspiel, every branch-break drum-hit, every vocal crack. Although the band probably went through take after take, the album sounds like it was recorded live. On their first album, the Shout Out Louds’ songs were poppy and immediate. By simply shoving everything right into listeners’ eardrums, Bood crafted an introduction that held nothing back.
The band’s second album, Our Ill Wills, was produced by Bjorn Yttling from Peter, Bjorn and John. Yttling, a top-40 fetishist, bridles the band into a coy, tightly- controlled act. The album is expensive liquor- imagine the high (or alternately the heat of proletariat superiority) you felt the first time you had something top shelf bought for you by a rich cousin or sort-of friend who felt like showing off. You will get that feeling every time you listen to the 7-minute lament “Impossible” or the rollicking “Tonight I Have to Leave It.” It’s an album of precision, of perfectly portioned excess. For better or worse, and on this album, certainly for better, the Shout Out Louds started to take themselves pretty seriously around this time, and that hasn’t let up since.
Rightly labeled the most challenging album in the band’s discography, the band’s third album, Work, was produced by northwestern indie god Phil Ek. Ek brought a crispness and guitar focus to Built To Spill’s career highlights There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, Perfect from Now On, and Keep it Like a Secret, as well as great albums by The Shins, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and The Walkmen. However the collaboration between the band and Ek is a difficult one. Ek as a producer knows what to do with guitars, drums and bass, with terra-cotta solos and quiet songs begging to be made louder. He has more trouble with spotlight vocals, keyhole details, the kind of songs that are coastlines, songs built for apartments, not homes. Even on the highlights of this uneven album, you can feel the tension between Ek’s production (seeking to make the band sound like an American indie band) and the Shout Out Louds’ songwriting.
Yet the band’s willingness to stretch, shed, and build is half of what makes their most recent album, Optica, so good. The other half is producer Johannes Berglund who worked with The Radio Dept. on their equally subversive record Clinging to a Scheme. On …Scheme, the catchiest songs are preceded by audio clips talking about the commodification of youth culture, It’s the kind of thing that sticks into your throat and catches on the melody bouncing through your ears .
On Optica, the Shout Out Louds make pop music that doubts itself. Opening track “Sugar” decays as you listen to it. The fake steel drums on “Chasing the Sinking Sun” couldn’t feel faker unless they were made with a midi keyboard. The riff on “14th of July” repeats itself so quickly and so often, the band sounds worried you’ll forget the melody the second it is done playing (you won’t). The programed beats on “Circles” feels like they emerge from a computer running hot on reserve power. These songs are a body-cross-section of a pop album. They show you their guts but never get maudlin or pretentious about it. This time around, The Shout Out Louds are showing you what they’re made of.
And here‘s a great Jens Lekman remix of Optica’s 14th of July.
Last night I was at Monkeypaw having probably the 50,000th conversation about what is it with California? It went on for too long, and I think someone walking over and pressing 02-14 for “Debra” might’ve shut us all up it. Not that Beck has an answer but he certainly is questioning this California bullshit the same way. I mean, dude’s got a new songs which is 15 minutes long and features a spoken-word interlude by Kim Gordon. Makes about as much sense as the ham fisted Big Sur trip I drove with friends coming back from San Francisco the other week- from the kind of ocean views that make your ears pop then harden then fall asleep as the sun tips past oil drilling equipment and small mountains around Barstow.
You can hear the new Beck song here.
Speaking of NYC Spring songs, here’s another.
It would be far too easy to dismiss Soul Coughing as pretentious white boy jazz (which, on a superficial level, isn’t too far from accurate) or 2ish hit wonders (the Ricky Martin baiting “Super Bon Bon” and the joyful, ridiculous “Circles.”), without allowing the joy and depth that their music has and the excitement it can bring about. Find somebody whose never heard either of Soul Coughing’s singles on the radio and play them the band’s debut, Ruby Vroom, once through, and they will be asking, man who is this?
When the band released Ruby Vroom, they were unconventional, at a time when convention was Seven Mary Three, or maybe if you were lucky, Nine Inch Nails. Guitar was sharp, rhythmic, and often atonal, warm upright bass gave the songs their melody, Drums either acted as motor or airbags, samples rose and fell out of the mix, and Mike Doughty sung-spoke real poetry in a thick hearty New York accent. Nobody was ready for this, when it was released, which is surprising because, though unconventional, the album is both inviting and lot of fun.
“True Dreams of Wichita” watches the east river thaw itself out from the Williamsburg Bridge, back when the only people heading to Williamsburg were either Hassidim or had a machette somewhere on their persons. Tchad Blake’s production allows the song to bloom gradually, and I melt at the way he keeps those drums right up front, right next to the bass.
It’s a clever line, early on in the song, when Doughty intones “I’m half drunk on the drinks you mix.” It’s the sign of a real writer that, about two minutes later, he returns to complete the image “I’m half drunk on babel you transmit/through your true dreams of Wichita.”
It’s cheating a little bit to give you “Janine” as well; I almost feel like you have to earn the tenderness of this song, which closes out the album. Still, it’s too good not to share.
Also, Beck, St Vincent, The Liars and OS Mutantes do good.