“Optica plays like a great 80’s mixtape, albeit with modern production and a good deal of subtlety” reads NPR’s tagline for Shout Out Louds fourth effort. The Swedes are returning to reviewers’ good graces after some turned their noses at 2010’s Work. While Optica also feels very indie rock, the 80’s references are fair and the album is very good – but these people are focusing on the wrong songs.
The blogosphere’s theme is this: Optica is fresh and new, yet feels so utterly familiar. Pitchfork used the lead single and second track, “Illusions,” as an example: “you feel like you’ve heard it before, but you can’t tell where.” In actuality, what you’re feeling is 1992’s “Send Me On My Way” by Rusted Root with more synths; just try to not sing “on my way” in a deep baritone over the chorus. Opening track “Sugar” throws in a hefty dose of The Shins, “Walking In Your Footsteps” puts the main rhythm behind “Electric Feel” into 4/4, and “Blue Ice” just feels a little too safe. All these tracks are okay, but ultimately forgettable.
Optica truly shines deeper in the album, whether you dig 80’s music or not. After new-wave dancing through a slightly dark attempt to get in the pants of a privileged, yet unloved, French girl on the “14th of July,” lyricist Adam Olenius addresses that strange middle ground between “burning out” and “fading away:”
The sun at your eyes and your face looks so much older
Than I can remember from last night
Do I remember anything at all?
I picked you up from the same place where I left you
You had your work clothes on, only the maid could reveal you
We ran the belt again, oh that sound is so alarming
It is louder than our love, it is louder than we’ll ever be
It’s a similar sentiment to some tracks on Yo La Tengo’s latest effort Fade, only with more cynicism and attention to detail. Told from a ‘morning after’ perspective, Olenius worries about how the belt on his car will never be out-moaned by their dirty doings, questioning his own passion in the subtlest way. His lyrical punch really connects on “Chasing the Sinking Sun,” though. Any former irresponsible, suburban teenager who has seen the old stomping ground for adventure turn into a “ghost town” can relate: [LISTEN]
I hear music coming from a house
Just around the corner from where I stand
Voices pouring out of the windows in the ground
I’m still waiting for that song, it will come
We were here – that I know
We lost our minds here long ago
Climbed the fence, got caught on the ground
And let them know we’re not all still around
While it hits home, it doesn’t share the one-size-fits-all, “palm-reader” lyric method that songs with similar messages may employ, i.e. fun.‘s “We Are Young.” Even if they were going for a universal approach, it sure doesn’t feel like it. Though there are far too many highlights to mention here, such as the flute jam reminiscent of fellow Swedes Jaga Jazzist in “Glasgow,” or the unsettling and catchy stalker-pop of “Hermila.” And while the first few tracks may disappoint, Optica saves grace in its midlands.