On Shout Out Louds’s third album, Work, producer Phil Ek seeks to emulate the saccharine, baroque warmth that has proven so critically viable on his previous efforts, particularly Band of Horses’s gentle but shimmering Cease to Begin. But while his lofty, melodic, ennui-drenched craft persists, Shout Out Louds lack the command to guide it home, content to come along for the ride rather than sit themselves comfortably in the driver’s seat and take the wheel. Thus, unlike the Shins on Wincing the Night Away and Fleet Foxes on their eponymous debut, the Swedish quintet are rarely masters of Ek’s approach: Work‘s sweetness is uneven and awkward, managing very little ecstasy despite all the heartfelt pining and soft atmospherics. The album’s clip proves choppiest when the band attempts sweeping melodrama. The slow-building “Paper Moon” finds vocalist Adam Olenius’s ungainly, if charming, moan gliding over strings and a rough grit guitar, reaching all the right emotional cues with the predictability and banality of a recycled Andrew Lloyd Webber composition. Meanwhile, “1999” marches clumsily with the ill-matched pairing of a wan piano staccato and rushing double-time beat but thankfully casts them off for a ragged, victorious stab of guitar at its conclusion. The band finds consistency elsewhere: The wafting “Too Late to Slow” captures the mellow, melancholic nuances of Ek’s touch, while tracks such as second single “Fall Hard” are chiming and plaintive, demonstrating a raw sensibility strongly reminiscent of the French Kicks’s minimalist guitar work on Swimming. But for those few moments of stripped-down brevity where Ek’s trademark warmth actually radiates, Work is tepid.
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