Let’s call this the comeback. Two years have passed since the Shout Out Louds released their stateside debut Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, itself a reworked version of their 2003 European debut of the same name, and in that time I still haven’t been able to tear myself away from its jangly, infectious pop singles such as “Please Please Please,” “Very Loud,” and my personal favorite, “The Comeback.” It’s not so much that the album itself was perfect, but like many of their Swedish brethren, they had an uncanny power for creating incredible little diamonds of songs. That hasn’t changed on their second album Our Ill Wills, but with a darker streak and a greater delicacy toward arrangements, The Shout Out Louds have brought their focus toward the album as a whole.
In the wake of Capitol Records’ merge with Virgin, The Shout Out Louds made a shift to high-profile indie Merge, home of a band to which they share many a stylistic similarity, The Arcade Fire. If I were to succumb to the oft-overused “x band-meets-y band” comparison for the Shouts, the two that come to mind are The Cure and The Arcade Fire. The first is a given, as frontman Adam Olenius sounds like a Scandinavian Robert Smith, while many of their songs sound plucked from The Head on The Door—dig the “In Between Days” riff on “Tonight We Have To Leave It.” But there’s also a dramatic, lushly arranged grandeur on many songs, the sort that makes bands like The Arcade Fire thrive. What sets them apart is a quirky, earnest charm that’s glaringly absent from both bands’ work, making The Shout Out Louds seem a bit more grounded, if still bummed-sounding from time to time.
Peter Bjorn and John’s Bjorn Yttling takes the producer’s helm on Our Ill Wills, though the band also considers him the unofficial sixth member of the band. It’s not hard to hear the parallels between PB and J and the SOLs, both being deft pop songwriting teams with melodies that soar as much as they emote. The area where Yttling truly excels here is in capturing a stronger sense of mood and atmosphere that was far less pronounced on the group’s peppier debut. The album is thick with nostalgia, regret and gloom, all of which become filtered into beautiful, perfectly arranged pieces. The aforementioned “Tonight I Have To Leave It” reveals Olenius’ search for a way out of a relationship (“So I heard it’s no good to run/ but it feels so much better now that it’s done“), his escape made more bittersweetly exciting through the song’s overwhelming melody.
The melancholy escalates on the wintry “Parents Livingroom” and the upbeat, Smiths-like “You Are Dreaming.” On the latter, Olenius sings “no cigarette can cover up the mess I made/ but it makes me feel less lonely,” his own sentiments having a bit of a Morrissey-like ring, especially amidst similarly jangly pop. A different sort of Cure-influenced sound emerges in “Normandie,” as the track bears more than a passing resemblance to “Close to Me,” yet with a lyrical longing for a jaunt to the beach rather than a desire never to leave one’s own bed. “South America” has a lighter touch, with its Latin guitar riffs, strings and synth swells, making it an instantly catchy standout. Even on the higher energy tracks, such as the great “Time Left For Love,” Olenius unleashes lines such as “I lost all my friends in an accident/ I couldn’t believe what happened,” infusing the celebratory mood with an overwhelming sadness.
The heavy-hearted darkness that blankets Our Ill Wills can come across as a bit of a shock, particularly after a debut as fun and seemingly carefree as Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. Yet in taking a turn toward the bleak, The Shout Out Louds have refined an elegant sort of sadness. Their songwriting skills sound sharper than ever and the emotional depth here is much more intense. It may be a lot to take in one sitting, but the tears shed will be rewarded with impeccably pristine pop.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.