Under Review: Shout Out Louds – Work

While his work with Built To Spill and The Shins has become the stuff of modern indie pop legend, I’m still not sure what my feelings are towards the style of producer Phil Ek.  In the past few years, albums he’s produced have been breathtaking at best (Fleet Foxes’s debut) and painfully bland at worst (the Dodos’ whitewash third album, Time To Die).  Ek’s newest project is with Swedish popsters the Shout Out Louds, whose last album was helmed by a producer of whom I’m an unabashed fan: Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn And John.  So, how does Work, the Shout Out Louds’ latest, compare with both their own past efforts and the previously unpredictable output of its producer?  The first thing that made me question this pairing’s potential is the fact that, unlike Doug Martsch or James Mercer, Shout Out Louds singer Alex Olenius possesses a breathy brood of a voice rather than a soaring tenor.  In past efforts, Ek has sometimes tried to shoehorn singers into tones he’s more familiar with, but on Work, he pretty much lets the band do their own thing.  Work is, overall, less orchestrated than Our Ill Wills, but the more stripped-down style lends an air of fragility and honesty that comes with the best of Ek’s productions.  Most of the songs on Work start out with the barest of instrumentation, gradually building to a rushing and rousing chorus.  Such is the case with “Fall Hard” and “Walls,” two of the set’s most inviting moments.  There’s also something enigmatic about Work that keeps some of the songs from being easily decoded.  “Candle Burned Out” has a pop song buried somewhere under its gloomy hum and “Show Me Something New” features a bouncy motorik beat that contrasts its sad-sack lyrics.  Though I was initially hesitant to hear what Ek had done to a group that showed such promise on its previous two albums, it is the Shout Out Louds’ own unflappable character that makes Work pull through in the end.  It may not be an immediately catchy record like the band’s first two, but Work is just as gratifying and even more mature.  Work still hasn’t cemented my confidence in Phil Ek’s production, but it has just as strongly sold me on the Shout Out Louds’ capabilities as artists.

~ by E. on February 22, 2010.

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