Okkervil River: Will Sheff (acoustic guitar); Jonathan Meiburg, Brian Cassidy (electric guitar); Zachary Thomas (mandolin); Scott Brackett (cornet); Patrick Pestorius (bass guitar); Travis Nelsen (drums).
Additional personnel: Kathleen Pittman, Sarah Pizzicheni, Tammy Vo, Scott Jackson (violin); Katie Nott, Will Thothong (viola); Caitlin Bailey (cello); Frances Smith (clarinet).
What's gotten into Okkervil River? While the band has always been basically the vehicle for the songs and musings of frontman Will Sheff, their formless approach--somewhere between indie rock, emo, and roots music--has always tended to be a too-middling, too-pensive, and an altogether too-tasteful affair. STAGE NAMES changes everything. With the mixing help of Spoon drummer and Austin producer extraordinaire Jim Eno, the Austin quintet finally unleash their inner rock animals and deliver an unhinged rock-&-roll record replete with finger snaps, swaggering riffs, and Sheff's most direct and dynamic song cycle yet.
The lead-off, "Our Life Is Not A Movie and Maybe," injects a Belle and Sebastian-esque melodic theme with a sweeping rock energy that finally matches Sheff's penchant for dense, literate turns of phrase. "A Girl in Port" and "Plus Ones" masquerade first as old-style Okkervil River ballads before blossoming into wasted, midtempo country rock. "You Can't Take the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man" continues the touring life themes by riding a T. Rexish glam rock riff with lyrics of girls passed out in hotel chairs. Many times intense touring schedules can derail a band and certainly deplete the depth of new material. Okkervil River have turned this danger into an advantage by harnessing the newfound tightness of a road-tested band and finding new ways to play with the cliches. The resulting long player is a riveting, unique epic that mixes many known elements into something you've never heard before--particularly from Okkervil River.