Saturday, September 6, 2008

Review: Okkervil River - The Stand Ins (* * * 1/2)

It's a rare occurrence for a band to release a concept sequel to a previous concept album only a year old. It's even more rare when people actually get excited about it. But when it comes to Okkervil River, it doesn't really matter what the circumstances are; any release from this consistently impressive band will be met with enthusiasm and applause, and the buzz has been all over the blogs.

The Stand Ins, with 11 songs, three of which are brief interludes, and a 40 minute run time sometimes feels like the second half of a movie rather than a feature-length "part 2." In context of the first album, this new set continues the themes of The Stage Names but expands the musical palate just a bit, including the jaunty, sing-a-long pop tune, "Pop Lies." Sheff is in fine songwriting form here for the majority of the songs, especially "Lost Coastlines" and "Calling And Not Calling My Ex." It's a tight, compact continuation of an already impressive first movement, but as a stand-alone album it leaves me wanting more.

Like The Stage Names, The Stand Ins includes some standout tunes, which I've already mentioned, along with a couple that don't completely hold up. While Sheff is a fantastic story teller, he occasionally forgets to bring the melody along, as on "Blue Tulip," an overlong ballad that bogs down the middle portion of the album. Granted, this weak moment isn't enough to completely derail the entire project, but when there are so few remaining songs, it is especially frustrating. The brilliant moments on the album just don't end up justifying so little material.

The concept of The Stand Ins is intentional. The two albums blend well together, and as two parts of one whole they feel complete. Apparently, Sheff specifically chose not to release a double album for fear of appearing pretentious, but releasing two halves of an album a year apart seems to me to be even more so. I don't want to be misunderstood here; the music is mostly great, the musicianship is incredible, and "Lost Coastlines" might end up on my "songs of the year" list for 2008, but without its predecessor, The Stand Ins doesn't feel substantial enough to stand on its own.

Favorite Tracks: "Lost Coastlines," "Calling And Not Calling My Ex," "Pop Lies"


T.O. Snob said...

I couldn't agree more.