Somewhere, in an unpronounceable (many umlauts, few vowels) neighborhood in Stockholm, Sweden, there must be a master class in contemporary American indie rock being taught, and we’re just getting the pioneers of the first graduating class. That, to me, seems the only explanation for the new rash of Swede-rock that has been waging a mellow invasion on our shores. Our Ill Wills (Merge), the sophomore album from Shout Out Louds, is another soldier for the cause. And—big surprise—the album was produced by “secret sixth member” Bjorn Yttling, from fellow Stockholm Rock U. alum Peter, Bjorn, and John. I’m telling you, this has “conspiracy” written all over it.
The general mood of Ill Wills is pretty consistent with that of Peter, Bjorn, and John, or, for those not as initiated into the Stockholm scene, kind of like Belle and Sebastian if they had some of the guys from The Strokes on guitars. “Tonight I Have to Leave It”, the first single and first track on the album, opens with a raucous cowbell fit to make rock legend Bruce Dickinson happy. The synth-string arrangements and fast tempo are reminiscent of Echo & theBunnymen, while Adam Olenius’ vocals call to mind Robert Smith. Also notable is that their vocals, especially on this particular song, don’t sound particularly Americanized. Olenius sings with that Swedish accent that kind of sounds like a five year old who is trying to talk to you “vewy sewiouswy.”
Strangely enough, “Tonight I have to leave it” isn’t even the best song on the album, as “South America” blows it out of the water with a catchy synth-hook that is instantly whistle-able, and will anchor itself in your brain for a while. Along with the other strong songs on the album, “South America” seems pretty viable for the next Zach Braff vehicle, or perhaps a guest shot on Gossip Girls, but this isn’t really a bad thing.
For those who are looking for lots of words in their songs, they’ve lucked out on Ill Wills. With heartache and insecurity as the cornerstone behind most of the lyrics, the album could have been pulled from the pages of any high school student’s diary. What makes it kind of funny is how poppy the musical accompaniment is for most of Olenius’ crying. Even on “South America”, with its latin flavors, he’s worrying about a girl back home, and who she might be meeting when she goes out.
For all the emotion that seems to ooze throughout the album, one of the specialties of Shout Out Louds seems to be the way in which they acoustically defy their self-imposed gravity, and their collaboration with the likes of Peter, Bjorn, and John, both on this album as well as in live performances, seems more of an organic creature than the result of a bunch of people who all understand what the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show is actually saying. They certainly have begun to find their niche in an already crowded scene though, and it will be interesting to see their other classmates make an appearance in the coming years. - Eric Silver