Flowing out from the rich Austin music scene, Okkervil River play an addictive brand of indie folk with a undeniable punk rock spirit. The Stage Names is the band’s fourth full-length album and follow up to 2005’s tremendous, Black Sheep Boy. It has always escaped me why Will Sheff and his ragged bunch of troubadours in Okkervil River have somehow flown below the indie rock spotlight. Sheff is just as dramatic and charismatic as any other notable indie rock front men that come to mind. On The Stage Names, the band continues their amazing consistency.
Okkervil River have always had such a dynamic sound. The band is quite adept at switching up moods and tempos song by song. Sheff is what drives the band though. His compelling stories and plaintive vocals combined with the band’s perfect scores elevate these songs to their true potential. The Stage Names plays out in a familiar way. The band pushes the more upbeat material to the front half of the record. Opening song and first single, “Our Life Is Not A Movie, Or Maybe” is classic Okkervil River as Sheff’s lyrics play off each other. The lead man has such a compelling lyrical style that he weaves throughout his songs. With his signature plaintive vocals, Sheff is a dynamic weapon for the band. Okkervil River slows things down with the sad but touching “Savannah Smiles.” From that point on the band stays on the somber side of things til they hit the raucous “You Can’t Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man” which is good for a laugh or two. Sheff writes such rich narratives full of desperation, paranoia, sadness, humor and eventually hope.
It is hard not to become addicted to what Okkervil River do so well. They have been mastering their craft for four albums now. While The Stage Names may not be as immensely rewarding as 2005’s Black Sheep Boy, the album does wrap up yet another incredibly strong effort for the band. It proves that Sheff and his band truly do deserve the limelight.