My biggest peeve with rock criticism is generalization. If a band experiments with feedback, it wants to be Sonic Youth. If a pop group hints at the sound of happiness, comes from Sweden, or has a drummer who makes prominent use of his snare, it’s part of the garage-rock trend (or worse, it totally sounds like the Strokes). I’m tired of that, and I can’t bring myself to abridge the story of the Shout Out Louds. This band generally fits into all of the previously mentioned categories (save for feedback), but it provides me with something most bands can’t: emotional fulfillment.
Howl Howl Gaff Gaff is now on its second run, the initial release being in 2003 on Sweden’s Bud Fox Recordings. The U.S. version is essentially a combination of the quintet’s 2002 recording debut, the 100º EP, and the tracks from the original pressing of Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. After recycling the same combination of songs over a three year period, the Shout Out Louds are finally finding fame (with some help from The O.C.) and, of course, what will undoubtedly be a limited period of hype in the States.
Like comparably talented Swedish bands the Legends and the End Will Be Kicks (who made brief appearances in 2004), the Shout Out Louds are musically perfect yet predictable, offering just-lo-fi-enough pop that is more sweet than sickening, catchy enough to potentially satisfy commercial-radio loyalists and the hippest of hipsters alike. But despite their musical triteness, this is currently the most charming band east of the Futureheads. While performing “Very Loud” on the Late Show on June 9, singer Adam Olenius’s jittery voice and blank stare (think Eleanor Friedberger) unveiled just a small piece of the genuinely innocent charisma this group has to offer, and for those few minutes, I wanted to hug the fuck out of them.
Judging from their large catalogue of releases but small library of songs — the band has released nineteen songs on nine EPs, LPs and singles over the last three years — it’s apparent that the Shout Out Louds are careful about song selection. Their sound is a bit contrived, particularly given the popularity of this pop style in the last couple of years, but what likely makes the band easy to get attached to is its honestly and painfully romantic lyrics. That they’re written in the band’s non-native English means they come off almost like a child’s poetry — not necessarily complex literature but sincere nonetheless. On “Please Please Please,” lines such as “It’s like a picture of a loved one in disguise or it’s like finding something pretty in a jar of flies” offer a dissimilarity to the sixties-style harmonies and beats, the happy-go-lucky bounce sharply contrasting with Olenius’s audible nerves.
Of course, Olenius claims to like contrasts. “I’m definitely not afraid to sound romantic, especially if I can still be a bit sinister,” he said in an interview on Capitol Records’ Web site. “I like to put chaos into a very simple pop song.” That tactic is evident on Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, and regardless of any musical trend the band might fall into, the combination of subtly heartbreaking lyrics and deceptive handclaps only serves to make this one of the most emotionally rewarding albums of the year.