Sound: Heart-on-sleeve, lyrically dense and Southern/country-flavored indie rock. The Stage Names presents a peppier, grander and more reined-in version of Okkervil River than on previous releases. Will Shef still wails but less abrasively and the songs gravitate towards more traditional pop/rock structures.
Look For: The fun-with-math lyrics on “Plus Ones,” commenting on the lack of need for excess despite society’s push. Shef writes about the “97th tear,” the “100th luftballoon,” the “51st way to leave your lover,” “8 Chinese brothers” and more (all references to classic songs).
Also Look For: The surprising and seamless transition into a rollicking version of The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” on the second half of “John Allyn Smith Sails.” Yes, there are a few homages to music’s past on The Stage Names and they nail each one of ‘em.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Plus Ones”; “A Hand to Take a Hold of the Scene”; “Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Unless It’s Kicks”; “John Allyn Smith Sails”; “Savannah Smiles”
Recommended: By tightening up and smoothing out their sound, Okkervil River may ruffle some of their diehards’ feathers. But for my taste, this is their breakthrough. By cutting out some of the long lulls, unpredictable dramatics and angsty yowls, they’ve created a more approachable and enjoyable showcase for their top-notch wordplay.
Grade: A- (Top 20 Albums of 2007 Candidate)