I have been intrigued lately by the idea of the term, ‘genealogy.’ In the last century, philosophers and theorists have used this term with more frequency in place of ‘history.’ In figuring out how ‘things came to be,’ histories, that is, plucking particular moments out of the past, are insufficient. Rather, they look to the ‘genealogy,’ what they are calling ‘a history of the present,’ the combination and ever changing landscape of events that all culminate together into the present moment in time. There is probably nothing better to describe the present moment in time for Shout Out Louds, and additionally their third album, than a genealogy of pop music.
Stockholm, Sweden’s Shout Out Louds has been a veritable sponge of its pop music past, absorbing and transforming that material into its own catch and hook heavy tunes. Howl Howl Gaff Gaff and Our Ill Wills garnered the band especially strong reviews for their ability to craft deft and acrobatic gems that are at once intricate and accessible in their simplicity. It was as if the Arcade Fire had stripped down to the essentials, revealing the scaffolding behind the rococo structure. With Work, (the album title defying the seemingly logical two-word inevitability) the band embraces that philosophy wholeheartedly, again delivering solid pop constructions, this time, as a matter of vocation.
Shout Out Louds’ last two albums gained a lot of comparison to the aforementioned Arcade Fire and to The Cure’s more famous ‘middle’ period. Now one can seemingly add Phoenix to that list, as Work recalls the French band’s throwback pop tropes on more than one occasion. As fate might have it, the album opens with “1999,” less a companion piece to the Prince track than a bookend to Phoenix’s “1901,” an infectious set of parentheses to the century that bore the origins of today’s popular music. One can almost surgically remove pieces of the song that could remind the listener of the styles inherent in each of the above bands’ representative work, but the genius is in the genealogy, in how each of these styles have come to be blended into the end product the Shout Out Louds produce.
“Fall Hard,” the album’s second single, is probably the strongest example of a Phoenix / Cure hybrid. It’s as if Robert Smith and Thomas Mars morphed into what became Adam Olenius, while the guitars recall the heyday of Tears for Fears. As the album goes on, one could realize what had been realized on their previous two albums, that each track is a potential single. Despite its more languorous pace, “Play the Game,” in its transfixing nature, is easily one candidate. One probably couldn’t have picked a better lead single than “Walls,” however. This kinetically building juggernaut perfectly captures what the Arcade Fire had previously in its homage to Bruce Springsteen, “Keep the Car Running.” The song could easily come to be considered the best the band has produced.
However, as I’ve previously mentioned, the fun of Work lies in the fact that each song is meticulously crafted to be part of a larger whole, despite the fact that each song can be plucked out to add as strong addition to a playlist of your choice. “The Candle Burned Out,” “Show Me Something New,” and “Too Late Too Slow” are later examples of that pleasant dichotomy. In fact, the last track is one that will make ’80s enthusiasts take notice, being a dreamy combination of The Smiths, The Cure, and maybe even the Dream Academy.
Work does slow down a bit in the third quarter of the album, but for the most part provides a rich, yet bare bones pop landscape. As opposed to say, the multitude of bands that seem to crop up, imitating a particular style (angular post-punk or Jesus & Mary Chain photocopies), Shout Out Louds’ existence can be more pointed to a genealogy than a reproduction of history. Everything before it has been leading up to this point. Or, as the nerd in me cannot resist, “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”
Video: “Fall Hard”