Music Reviews
Our Ill Wills

Shout Out Louds Our Ill Wills

(Merge Records) Rating - 8/10

At first glance it's easy to write off the Shout Out Louds as a fairly average Swedish import riding on the Nordic coattails of other such pop acts that have been rather trendy in recent years, all a bit too nostalgic for that anguished new wave that dissipated with the 1980's. It's obvious where the band's influences are stemming from when there's a song titled Meat is Murder . And no, it's not a cover. The Shout Out Louds could be charged with even more accounts of coattail riding due to their decision to hitch themselves to the production of Bjorn Yttling, of the hugely successful Swedish group Peter Bjorn and John. Despite such lofty production credits and the obvious sleeve dressings, Our Ill Wills surpasses the band's 2005 debut Howl Howl Gaff Gaff because it takes modest chances and expands on the band's strengths, doing so cordially all the while.

Front man Olenius has a formula. He specializes in songs that make frequent mention of geography and traveling, while dwelling in a state of chronic despair. With this immediately comes the problem of overly sappy emotions. Just how much love until you want to spew? Although he's relentlessly choked-up in terms of sentiment as well as vocal timbre, Olenius never quite reaches the tipping point, focusing on the ambivalence of love and the feeble feelings that we don't like to admit we harbor. It's an album that is in love simply with the idea of true love, but finds a cold comfort in never achieving it.

You Are Dreaming expresses the urgent search for acceptance that is felt throughout this album. Nervousness rides over dense acoustic guitars as Olenius caws, "A cigarette can't cover up the mess I'm in," only to admit, "but it makes me feel less lonely." He's insecure and unsure, forlorn, anxious and yearning, surrounded by surprisingly large drum sounds and jingly tambourine rhythms.

The album expands greatly on the textures used on Howl Howl Gaff Gaff . There's plenty of wood-block percussion and an abundance of string arrangements alongside the usual synths and guitar crunch. Impossible , one of the bands most ambitious songs to date clocks in at around seven minutes, working well because it's the only true example of opulence on the album. The Shout Out Louds are much more comfortable on the contained Your Parent's Living Room, which is so quirkily specific that we know Olenius' account of a night gone wrong must be grounded in truth.

We get a break from the sad-sack routine about halfway through the album when keyboardist Bebban Stenborg graduates from her backing vocal position to sing lead on Blue Headlights. Stenborg's voice is important in the context of Our Ill Wills because she addresses the band's female audience directly. In a call to arms she displays more positive emotional strength than Olenius does throughout most of the album.

It's good to see the Shout Out Louds haven't become complacent in their little pop tales of heartbreak and loneliness, but have benefited from an overall expansion of their sound. Take Normandie, the track with the most instantly memorable hook on the album; It's the perfect summation of the band, familiar and extremely difficult to dislike.