Shout Out Louds – Optica (Merge)

The Swedish sextet return to offer little wonder, but smatterings of brilliance

Released Apr 29th, 2013 via Merge / By Frankie Reeves
Shout Out Louds – Optica (Merge) “Change is always good if you want it,” mutters Adam Olenius on Optica’s closing track ‘Destroy’ and it sounds pretty clear the Shout Out Louds wanted it. Optica has its ups and downs, but it’s a cracking album overall. Not to say the band’s new direction is necessarily an improvement on previous material, but it’s definitely a good, summery, radio-friendly place to be at the moment - and released just in time for festival season, when the new songs will really shine.

If you go into Optica with 2005’s Howl Howl Gaff Gaff in mind – its simple-but-effective indie pop tinged with tiny dabs of punk and rock ’n’ roll – you might be pleasantly surprised. Opener ‘Sugar’ kicks things off, at which point it becomes immediately clear that this band has grown the heck up. One thing that hasn’t changed is the band’s strength when it comes to instrumental hooks, and Sugar’s guitar riff is an absolute classic. Couple this with a stunning melody, a nicely grooving bass line and (another thing the band are good at) a spacious, well-crafted arrangement, and you’ve got a smooth indie masterwork on your hands.

The album’s first single ‘Illusions’ feels a bit like every good indie pop tune of the last five years mixed with some 80s synth-pop references – clear festival anthem material. ‘Blue Ice’ is even better with its nods to old pop classics that flow even more liberally to the point where you’re pretty much drowning in splendid faux-80s pop. It’s a gorgeous song, which captures Olenius’ voice at its slightly slurred, ever-endearing best. ‘14th of July’ comes off pretty strong and is, once again, stylistically recognisable but really well made. Fairly formulaic indie-with-a-dance-beat, but a killer tune nonetheless.

Things then move to a slightly less interesting place, although the band would have been hard pressed to keep up with the quality of those openers. There are some nice riffs and choruses between ‘Burn’ and ‘Hermila’, and a good album track in the tune ‘Glasgow’, but nothing that screams brilliance. Nevertheless, it’s really satisfying to hear Bebban Stenborg taking the vocal reins on ‘Hermila’. She has a magnificent voice that’s a joy to hear so much throughout Optica.

Just as you begin to think that Optica could have been amazing as a four-track EP, ‘Chasing The Sinking Sun’ happens and it brings everything more or less back up to that earlier level. It’s quite reminiscent of Twenty One--era Mystery Jets with glorious 80s-style synths and vocal interchanges aplenty.

After ‘Circles’, which seems to just be “there”, ‘Destroy’ is a solid, conclusive ending. It always says something about a song when you can enjoy it without realising it’s over six and a half minutes long. But yes, “change is always good”, especially when you know what on earth you’re doing and where you’re going, which the Shout Out Louds certainly seem to. Granted, it’s not an album of sheer wonder or originality but, by 2013’s standards, it’s a frickin’ good effort. Optica has clarity and there are more than one or two great tunes to make it a winning combo of easy-listening, sugar-sweet pop, bouncy indie, classic influences, synthy ear candy and complimentary girl-boy vocal exchanges. Add in a few straight-to-radio gems and this should definitely be part of your summer soundtrack this year - get on it!