Okkervil River – The Stage Names

Okkervil River
The Stage Names

Usually, we go through life in a hazy bliss, emotionally and spiritually dead to what is going on around us. Sometimes, it takes something glorious to snap us out of this haze. Sometimes, it comes in the form of a new album from a band that is by leaps and bounds becoming one of the best currently making music. Am I speaking nonsense? Maybe, but then again you wouldn’t think so after you heard Okkervil River’s The Stage Names. Yes, this is an “indie” rock album but the layers and substance that fill and encompass it are utterly unmatched. In many ways, this album is the kind of musical collection that could alter your discernment and overall attitude on life.

After 2005’s haunting and brooding yet, superb Black Sheep Boy it seemed a bit unclear as to what Okkervil River would do next. So they toured for a long time, all the while gathering nine of the tightest and refreshing songs possible. There is nothing that gets overlooked here; a topical listen, it touches on the basis of mortality, dealing with death/any kind of profound loss and many other issues married to the beautiful struggle we call life.

The first three songs are your straightforward rockers and the stirring opener, “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe” sets the tone. The songs weave in and out of the chorus and verse with some horns here, a few hand claps there and some emotion sprinkled on top. Though in some parts the gleaming melodies give off the impression that this is a “happy album,” in reality, it’s so much more. The next song, “Savannah Smiles” — based on the life of a stripper that took her own life at a young age — is, very succinctly, one of the painstakingly best ballads of the year.

Will Sheff’s voice has never sounded as emotional, striking and powerful as it does here, the special touches of brass, winds and strings on parts of the songs are stunning and gorgeous. What’s even more magical is the way the band can connect their inspirations into their music. Their absorption of influences and being able to modify those to make them new and exciting are all signs of a tremendous band.

After the clever “Plus Ones” which pays homage to many classic songs ranging from “7 Chinese Bros.” to “What’s New Pussycat?” to “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and the stunning “A Girl in Port” you arrive at “John Allyn Smith Sails.” By this time you are left with such a remarkable feeling. This is a wildly lively, emotional album and by twists and turns the collection of songs are simply brilliant. As the Beach Boys interpolation ends, all you can sum up and say is “Wow.”

Everything is here: melody, harmony, great lyrics, smart instrumentation and pure emotion. It’s book ended by two of the best songs of the years and everything in between is music gold. It is an uplifting listen—so much more than a “pretty good album”—and while it may not be the unsurpassed album of the year, its significance and ability to make you feel again is what really matters. The fact alone that someone out there created this is inspiring.