Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Aug. 3, 2007
Okkervil RiverThe Stage Names (Jagjaguwar)
Okkervil River parted the curtains on 2005's staggering Black Sheep Boy to expose the "blinding light," an ugly and unsettling truth, purposely petulant and grotesque. The Austin combo sounded tortured and broken, a drastic and dramatic departure from the folkier roots of 2003's Down the River of Golden Dreams. Prefaced with an excerpt from Tatyana Tolstaya's "Okkervil River" in the liner notes, The Stage Names alternately explores and embraces the mundane behind the myths. "It's just a life story, so there's no climax," leader/lyricist Will Sheff resolves in opener "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe." The urgency is still there, as guitars and pianos take turns screaming during the breakdown, but the violence is replaced with a sense of frivolity and playfulness that lingers throughout the group's fifth release. "From the speakers your fake masterpiece comes serenely dribbling," concludes Sheff, his tongue firmly in cheek. "Unless It's Kicks" dabbles in Bo Diddley's jive and Shearwater's "Red Sea, Black Sea," Jonathan Meiburg's background vocals accentuating Sheff's Tarzan wail. He even laughs near the end of "You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man," a bouncy companion piece to "A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene." The desire to freeze the frame lingers. "All of the stage names evaporate, and it's just a blood-flushed and heart-rushing race to kick off too soon or stick around too late, to be far too dear or too cut-rate," Sheff narrates in the poignant "Title Track," the clock also ticking throughout "Savannah Smiles," a somber narrative on familial disconnect. "John Allyn Smith Sails," a reworking of the traditional "Sloop John B," serves as the curtain call. The modern world, revealed.