Release Date: Aug 7, 2007
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Review Summary: Okkervil River strike gold again with this more rehearsed and focused album about the woes of being a musician. 2005's Black Sheep Boy was an important record for Austin band Okkervil River in that it was the album that got them noticed, at least on a much larger scale than its two predecessors. But Black Sheep Boy was also important because it was the band's best release to date; a mastery of their sound and a gorgeous balance between multiple styles of song that all contributed to the album as a whole, not to mention the genius of singer/songwriter Will Sheff and his anxious, explosive vocal delivery.
Okkervil River broke away from the crowded indie rock pack with 2005's superb Black Sheep Boy, a ragged but ornate barroom romp that drank its way to the top of countless year-end lists by finding that thin vein that separates triumph and desperation and hammering as many nails into it as they could in under 50 minutes. Fans used to Will Sheff's visceral, lo-fi caterwauls may be disappointed in the bruised and elegant Stage Names upon first listen, but further spins reveal BSB as more of a stepping-stone than a peak. "It's just a life story/so there's no climax," from the rousing opener "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" sets the tone, and its floor tom gallop and volatile whoops sound like an unholy combination of My Aim Is True-era Elvis Costello and Transformer-era Lou Reed spilling out of an old player piano.
There's a moment about two minutes into "Our Life Is Not a Movie Or Maybe," the first song on The Stage Names where the band quite simply slips its bonds. Even up to this point, the song has been a coiled spring of melodic energy, its staccato bursts of words caroming against a tense rhythm of clamped guitar and snare shots. It begins to cut loose in the first chorus, in bigger drums and dramatic, flaring vocals, yet it cuts back to nothing.
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.