For their third album, Work, the Shout Out Louds worked with producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Shins) in hopes of distilling their sound to achieve the purest pop around. This sounds great on paper, but the reality isn't so promising. It turns out that the loss of the imperfect fringe from the earlier albums isn't balanced by the gains in melody and production.
Shout Out Louds have always had a small spark of energy that kept things intriguing, but it's missing here, swallowed by the melancholy drizzle of the new Seattle sound. It's not unpleasant – there are at least half-a-dozen melodies I was tapping my foot to – but it is a little boring.
On previous albums, the band has explored different instruments, styles, and song lengths. The slight variations, whether in instrumentation or even length, were enough to help the listener's ear distinguish each song. On Work the tracks blend together more often than not.
Thematically, it seems the band has followed the path that reflects most folks life. First, they were energetic and kinda quirky. Then, they found and lost love and got a bit sappy. Now, they've got a job and the real world to complain about. The lyrics are serviceable and relatable, but nothing special.
There are a few positives. The Shout Out Louds know how to write an opening track. “1999” is immediate and entertaining. “Fall Hard” is the kind of track that will grow on you whether you want it to or not and “Walls” is dynamic and rises above the rest of the album. I don't know if three songs can save an entire album, but these three come close.
Work will be released February 23 on Merge Records.