Music Reviews
The Stage Names

Okkervil River The Stage Names

(Jagjaguwar) Rating - 9/10

I first saw Will Sheff at a solo performance in Chicago a couple of years ago. What struck me most about him was the brutal honesty of his delivery; his controlled falsetto quivering at the end of each verse as if every verse of every song was definitive. I left the show pretty convinced Will Sheff was one of the most underrated songwriters yet to hit their prime. It seems like his last record, 2005’s Black Sheep Boy, despite impressing a few critics, failed to really garner him any significant notice. I suppose that was hardly a surprise given the shades of gray and black that colored most of the songs on the record… pretty tough to put that on a TV spot.

The same cannot be said about Okkervil River’s latest release, The Stage Names. Sheff is back and this time he brought the whole band. Not only does this fill out the band’s sound musically, but it also adds to the conceptual narrative of the album. The Stage Names is perhaps, to quote Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, a “think-piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations.” Musically, it’s the best American rock n’ roll album you’ll hear all year. No gimmicks here; there are no tribal percussion sections, no electronic blips or noise, no whistling, or even the now mandatory Jon Brion horn/string arrangement. Remember when Jeff Tweedy was letting loose and having fun? Listening to this record gives you the sense Will Sheff is doing just that. The only question that remains unanswered is who will get to adorn the next car commercial?