Midwestern folky alt-poppers drop their fifth, most refined album to date, and it’s an energetic and charming view of American culture. Highlighted by singer Will Sheff’s unhinged vocals and story-style lyrics, The Stage Names swings with an easy folk looseness while posturing an upbeat alt-rock animation. And where the band let loose before, they focus into a slick grooves.
The album has a nice array of speeds and moods, which give it its well-developed character. At its heights, “Unless It’s Kicks” features a chugging electric guitar strum, thumping drumbeat, and Sheff’s shout while “A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene” is a alt-pop gem complete with trumpet fanfare and claps. Soon afterwards, however, “Savannah Smiles” is a delicate acoustic ballad with xylophone and string accents that even channels Velvet Underground. And a slide guitar and sorrowful vocals create a country saloon feel on “A Girl In Port”. Those tracks alone create a wide variety of musical environments.
Where Okkervil River is set apart, though, is Sheff’s lyrics. With a quantity-first method that actually features legitimate folk quality, his narrations have a interesting story-telling appeal without losing any edge. “Plus Ones” is an interesting take on pop music numerations, pondering “100 luftballoons” and the “51st way to leave your lover”. “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” is a rambling piano jam comparing life stories to the big screen. There are plenty of reasons on The Stage Names to actually listen to what he’s singing.
The Stage Names is another fine progression in Okkervil River’s catalog, and succeeds on several levels. It’s got a wild side, smooth side, smart side, and altogether cool side thanks to the ability to change speeds, emotions, and Sheff’s addictive vocal delivery. Ideal all around.
MP3 Stream: “A Hand To Take Hold of the Scene”