Many emo bands – or at least quasi-emo bands such as Shout Out Louds – have taken a lot of heat for being whiners, often understandably so. Yet, when emo is done right, it will cause tears to flow (see Sunny Day Real Estate‘s trend-setting 1994 release Diary, for example).
On Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, even a lament that “everyone’s got someone but I got no one…to tell me what I look like when I stumble), doesn’t make me think “what a wuss,” but instead I am reminded of those times of my own loneliness and confusion – the same that everyone experiences, I guess. It’s just honest. And when singer Adam Olenious tells us that somehow his “heart beats faster” then those encroaching fears that are like a “train in his head,” you realise that underlying all that melancholy is a lot of hope.
Howl Howl Gaff Gaff is actually a compilation of sorts, with some songs taken both from an earlier EP as well as an album released only in Europe (confusingly with the same title). Thus, this release benefits from what may or may not be an unusual concentration of excellent songwriting. We’ll see. In any event, this is a must-have CD.
After the relatively straightforward pop gem, opener The Comeback is the group’s one minor hit thus far in their career, Very Loud. The driving snare drum and guitar-plucking intro belie the anguished but beautiful crooning that kicks in. Like Robert Smith at his best, this guy is not afraid to put it all on the table, even when a love is clearly slipping away (“Little by little your gonna hear me cry, hear me cry why-y-y-y-y?”). In fact, at one point Olenious almost literally breaks down bawling, and it all seems perfectly natural.
Very Loud then segues perfectly into the opening strings of the beautifully arranged Oh, Sweetheart. Together these two songs are about as sublime as any one-two punch I have heard all year.
The rest of this album is surprisingly rocky. Several songs are driven by tight, post-Strokes guitar lines (100 Degrees, Shut Your Eyes, Hurry Up Let’s Go), yet, with the addition of Cars-like keyboards and even the occasional bells, chimes or flute, even these songs are done with a certain sweetness.
If Howl Howl Gaff Gaff is an indicator of things to come, Shout Out Louds could be a sort of emo-Cure for the new millennium – and nothing would make me happier.