What’s perhaps most interesting about the Shout Out Louds’ latest album Work is trying to place the album’s lineage, to trace out the migration of the aesthetic that led to the Swedes’ sound. This isn’t a slight on the album itself. It’s catchy, worthwhile neo-twee; there are hooks and well-constructed melodies; the album doesn’t wear out its welcome. While Work doesn’t feel emotionally engaging or really deviate from an amiable pace, it’s still engaging enough to hold one’s attention for most of the 41 minutes.
So, ignoring those elements of Work in order to focus on some unusual non-album-specific facet isn’t condemnation. A fun pop album’s a fun pop album. Here’s the thing though; listening to Shout Out Louds (who hail from Stockholm) makes me think of the spate of Scandinavian pop bands of the last few years or so. There are popular groups like Peter, Bjorn and John or the Knife, and less well-known ones like Yamon Yamon, but all of them, for some reason, sound like American and British bands. Shout Out Louds themselves could fit in with any mid-’80s British group.
Sweden and Norway et al certainly have cultures of their own. But what’s interesting is that most often, what is exported from those countries — for indie mainstream consumption at least—are merely shadows or doppelgängers of the culture we’re already immersed within. Scandinavia certainly has a long pop history — ABBA, the Cardigans, the Concretes — but it seems as if almost everything America has been formally introduced to lately (through Western labels and media outlets) is something that directly evolved from or is a response to twee. Either that or death metal, as the peninsula’s musical identity bounces back and forth between extremes.
A larger question looks at the flip side of that, though. In the case of the Shout Out Louds, we are only introduced to what is exported from a certain country or culture, but what about the musical colonialists who venture out far into the field to return with exotic sounds? Piggybacking on that, do bands like Vampire Weekend and Dirty Projectors merely take from other cultures bits and pieces that already sound ‘Western’? This isn’t to start a row over whether the bands are good or whether they are imperialists who use their privilege to take from whatever aesthetic they want (they are, but that’s not necessarily bad). The question is, for every foreign band we’re introduced to or for every piece of music that borrows from a non-American or non-Western culture, are we really being introduced to something outside of us or are we merely encountering what is us inside that other culture?