Okkervil River, 'The Stand Ins' (Jagjaguwar)

8
The Stand Ins
Critical Mass
Label: Jagjaguwar

by Amanda Petrusich

Like the perennially chatty Decemberists, Okkervil river aren't stingy with syllables. the Austin band's fifth album, The Stand Ins, is packed with the same compound sentences, sprawling narratives, and precarious, barn-dance guitars that made its companion piece, 2007's The Stage Names, so weirdly gripping. Lyrically, frontman Will Sheff keeps on skewering life on the road ("Fuck long hours sick with singing / sick with singing the same songs," he cackles on closer "Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979"), and he takes care to revisit old characters ("Starry Stairs," a sequel to "Savannah Smiles," which eulogized the porn actress Shannon "Savannah" Wilsey, was originally released as a bonus track for The Stage Names). Also, if you stack up the albums' hauntingly embroidered covers (by artist William Schaff), they even produce one deliciously ominous portrait.

Still, The Stand Ins, which features a haze of banjo, mandolin, mellotron, piano, Hammond organ, pedal steel, sleigh bells, and gentle percussion, functions perfectly well on its own, raucous and contemplative in equal measure. It's hard to imagine a stuffed room hollering along to lyrics like "Is that marionette real enough yet /to step off that set to decide what her dance might be doing?" But Sheff manages to make even the most complicated sentiments feel like an invitation to raise your fist.

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