Shout Out Louds

Our Ill Wills

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Shout Out Louds' debut, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, was a bracing slap of a record. Uplifting -- as in off your seat and onto your feet as well as raising your spirits -- and exciting, it was the work of a young, wild band in love with pop music and seemingly life itself. The follow-up from two years later finds a band trying to recover from heartbreak. Gloomy where Howl was sunny, autumnal where Howl was a summer afternoon, sad where the other was bright, Our Ill Wills is the work of tortured souls. The songs tell of tragic accidents, lost love, bleak futures, deeply held secrets, unwanted children, and headaches (in Nordic cities and on parents' couches) in words that slice deep into your heart, especially when sung by Adam Olenius in his choked, sadder-than-Robert Smith voice. There are few moments of light (the handclaps on "Normandie," the uptempo charge of "Tonight I Have to Leave It," the sweeping strings and peppy guitars on "South America"); the darkness envelops the listener like a cold blanket. Björn Yttling's production is masterful in this regard as he and the band conjure up a perfect atmosphere of gloom. The happy-go-lucky organs and tambourines of Howl are replaced by icy synths, the guitars are played crisply, the drums struck precisely, the keys on the keyboards pressed with heavy heart; precious little remains of the abandon and joy that Shout Out Louds previously exuded. Even when the tempo jumps and your foot starts to tap hopefully, like on "Time Left for Love," the lyrics ("I lost all my friends in an accident/I couldn't believe what happened/Is there any time for love and are you coming home tonight?") pull you right back into the murk. If the brilliant energy and hopeful feel of Howl is what hooked you with Shout Out Louds, you might have a problem with Our Ill Wills. It really is like the work of another band. But here's the thing: it's like the work of another very, very good band with more depth than an oil well and the power to reduce even the happiest listener to a puddle of tears before the second song is over. If you can make it all the way through until the last notes of the epic-length guitar-strangling heartbreaker "Hard Rain" fade away into the mist, you've got a heart of stone. Our Ill Wills is an impressive, depressive album that could scare away all but their hardiest fans in one 48-minute swoop. You have to salute their bravery and hope for their own sakes that the next record is a return to a cheerier sate of affairs.

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