The dance-pop scene’s proliferation over the past decade has naturally made the task of “standing out” amid the genre more and more difficult. In an effort to stand out, dance-pop projects have tried to find that elusive golden ratio of fun and depth. There are the extremes of “fun” banality ‒ most of which can be found on a top-40 chart of your choice. Conversely is the subset of the more intelligent, artistically daring dance-pop. The latter group is almost always more musically interesting, but can occasionally take itself too seriously. Shout Out Louds work hard to unearth the introspective side of a run-of-the-mill dance tune. This endeavor succeeds mostly, yet, in this search, they produce an album that can at times lose focus and overstay its welcome.
Their first album in three years, the band embraces the ‘80s nostalgia that infiltrated pop music over the past few years. The opener, “Sugar,” has the gloss and crooning of any good ‘80s pop song, and the song adequately introduces the unapologetic aesthetic of Optica. But like many of the songs on the album, “Sugar” demands an immediacy that it somehow lacks, meandering a bit and never appearing to penetrate too deeply into the song’s core. On the other hand, “Illusion” is Optica’s creative pinnacle, a song that perfectly balances the care-free dance-able qualities of the genre while also conveying genuine heartbreak and passion. It’s an almost perfect pop song. “Blue Ice” has a Fleetwood Mac vibe to it, an influence that captures Shout Out Louds’ goals fairly well. Yet the song is a bit too airy and insubstantial to have much of an impact. It falls to the wayside as the album seems to breathlessly carry on, giving the record a feeling of quantity over quality.
There are plenty of admirable qualities that the band exhibits on the album. “Diamonds” takes a variety of instrumental risks that keep it exciting, and “Glasgow” manages a very sophisticated exploration of ‘80s pop similar to what Dan Bejar did so well on Kaputt a couple years ago. “Chasing the Sinking Sun” has a string melody so catchy that it will get under your skin and inhabit you. All of these moments are impressive and substantial, yet Optica never seems to explore them further or make sense of them. The album contains too many songs that fail to progress the album’s aesthetic in a fascinating, worthwhile fashion. In the end, Optica is an album defined by its moments, unable to reconcile the occasionally incompatible elements of dance-pop.
MP3: Shout Out Louds “Illusion”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl