Pre-Screening: Okkervil River

Okkervil River
The Stand Ins
JagJaguwar Records
Out: September 9, 2008

By definition, a stand in is a substitute, but this album, rather acts as a compliment. For those who have heard the band's 2007 release, The Stage Names, this was designed as a continuation of the themes of that album. For the most part, they succeed in establishing continuity, but at the same time, their penchant for making dramatically different music from track to track can get in the way- which is not a bad thing for those who've listened before, but for newcomers to the band, it could be tough to see the relationship on the first few go-arounds. Still, on to the album...

Opening up the album, you can't help but feel you're listening to a different band. "The Stand Ins, One" is an instrumental track (the first of three on here), a new element for Okkervil, and it sets a tone that flirts with Radiohead and Neutral Milk Hotel at times, but in the most subtle ways of course. Moving along, the already-released first single, "Lost Coastlines" brings you right back to what you left on The Stage Names. Mixing a vibe of 'Unless It's Kicks" (The Stage Names) and "Westfall" (Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See), this poppy hit makes you want to move, and of course, sing along. For five and a half minutes, this one displays some catchy pop sensibilities, and also throws in some plagirism with a foray into "Heart's On Fire" by John Cafferty, from the Rocky IV soundtrack.

The middle portion of the albums gives us the usual mix of high and low on any Okkervil album. "Singer Songwriter" treads the line, while the already-heard "Starry Stairs" grinds the album to a screeching halt. I personally don't like its inclusion, since many fans have the track from Itunes [ see (Shannon Wilsey on the) Starry Stairs], but that's just my own conviction. "Blue Tulips" is a direct substitute for "A Girl in Port" (TSN)- a nice, lengthy ballad- then the section of the album is brought to a close with the second instrumental.

The album's final five tracks seem to close the book on the emotions from the two records. Stand outs (no pun intended) here include "Pop Lie" and "Calling and Not Calling My Ex". Frontman Will Sheff frequently criticizes pop, and bands who purposefully write radio hits, and entertainingly enough, "Pop Lie" could be seen as just that- if it weren't for the superior orchestration and design of Okkervil River that is.

So what are my thoughts on this one? Since I've provided a good amount of mixed messages throughout the review, as always.

Okkervil River does on this album what they do best- make good indie rock, and provide enough brass to make it sound a little more intelligent. They succeeded in making two good albums in as many years, but didn't need to try to push the incorporation of the two, when I could just as easily have seen the two as seperate entities. Plus, like I said, the inclusion of "Starry Stairs" annoyed me, but I can see why it would happen, since the albums are incorporated. My question to the band: Where's "Love to a Monster"? One of my favorite Okkervil River tracks, this one was released as an emusic-only bonus, and seems to fit in with the mood they're attempting to establish on both records. I suggest this one if you're already a listener. If not, I'd go check out their best work- 2005's Black Sheep Boy, before checking out this two-release effort. Also an ideal band to listen to if you're feeling nostalgic for NMH, whose similarities are stark and continual.

Grade: 7.5/10. This could change with time, but for right now, I think it's a fair evaluation.

Lost Coastlines - Okkervil River

If the Imeem track isn't working, chances are "Lost Coastlines" will be up soon on their Last.FM.

*Note: Other commentary, outside of reviews will be seen as separate entries from now on. So, that means stay tuned during the week for features such as my "Buzz" addition and Heath's "Track of the Week", among others.

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