It feels fitting to absorb Shout Out Louds’ fourth full-length album, named after the science of light, during the down-right meanest (and darkest) month of the year. As the band’s resident female wrote of Optica and its concept, “Actual doctors prescribe light to us as a cure for ailments and deficiencies.” This quintet’s prescription for our collective case of the Februaries? Sleek, ’80s-inspired indie pop the way New Order used to do, recorded with hardly any prior rehearsing — a fun first for the group.
The lovable lo-fi sound of the band’s debut has been polished and refined over the past 10 years, and while 2010′s Work felt a bit too much like its moniker, Optica finds Shout Out Louds at their own synthy, post-work happy hour. Frontman Adam Olenius still sings of one of the band’s favorite topics: nostalgia. But the oft-tackled theme intermingles with feelings — feelings elicited by all the luminosity on top of exuberant synths that make the present feel more important (and more fun) than the past. The album-opener “Sugar” nails the sentiment: “Memories, they play tricks on me / In bright, bright sunlight, I forget where I want to be.”
The record’s energy ebbs and flows without fault, as “Blue Ice”, which sounds like a slow song at a John Hughes prom, segues into Optica‘s dancey crown jewel, “14th of July”. The quick-tempoed track could be a long-lost Top 40 number from 1986 (complete with those wind chimes to kick-off the chorus), as could the ABBA-esque “Illusions”. Even guitarist Carl von Arbin gives his fellow Swedes a cosign: “They had some kind of groove and harmonies that are really, really great.”
With the jazz-flute-driven “Walking In Your Footsteps” rounding out the highlights, it’s these tracks that radiate the most, but the whole LP serves as a welcome illumination of the otherwise abandoned dance floor we call February.
Essential Tracks: “Illusions”, “14th of July”