When Shout Out Louds’ debut album, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, was released in the U.S. eight years ago, the Swedish indie-pop act was part of two concurrent waves: Swedish indie-pop itself, and the trend of fresh-faced musicians crowding onto a stage to make a triumphant racket. That Shout Out Louds are still around and still viable—now releasing their fourth album, Optica—is a testament to the songwriting acumen of frontman Adam Olenius and the band’s ability to translate the core sound of their favorite Cure and Smiths songs into something grand and modern. Some Shout Out Louds songs are merely pleasant, but others—like Optica’s “14th Of July”—are a real rush, building from stinging art-funk to choruses that erupt, spectacularly.
“14th Of July” exemplifies what Shout Out Louds are up to on Optica. The band’s last album, 2010’s Work, was true to its name: steady and professional, almost to a fault. Optica is more purposefully imperfect, reminiscent at times of classic New Order, another band that also frequently pitched slick electronics against a weak human croak. It’s the same approach that Ariel Pink has taken with his lite-’80s Top 40 homages; on songs like Optica’s opening track, “Sugar,” the chirpy sing-song is slightly distorted, fraying the bright tapestry of the music.
This has long been one of Shout Out Louds’ main tactics, to sing sad words in a happy voice. Optica, though, adds a more conversational aspect. On “Glasgow,” for example, Olenius barely even tries to sing, instead mumbling casually over pretty synthesizers and guitars. And on “Illusions,” the group uses slinky retro dance music as a foundation for Olenius’ rumination on how the heart “won’t forget where it came from.” That’s as good an explanation as any for how Shout Out Louds stay relevant while retreating into the past. They can’t deny what they love, nor can they keep from instilling these sounds with personal feeling.