Review Summary: With its sweeping blend of dense folk-rock and free flowing narrative courtesy of lyrical genius Will Scheff, The Stand-Ins is up there with some of the best albums released this year so far.
Will Scheff is an immaculate storyteller. And yes, the Jesus allusion is completely justified. It’s maybe something to do with the fact that it’s almost impossible to actually give a damn about what he’s on about- and the irony of course being that the music on The Stand-Ins
is so damn good, it just doesn’t really matter. Billed as the second half of the critically acclaimed The Stage Names
, Okkervil’s newest stands side by side and just as high as its predecessor, and with its sweeping blend of dense folk-rock and free flowing narrative courtesy of lyrical genius Sheff, it’s up there with some of the best albums released this year so far.
While it’s hard to call The Stand-Ins
predictable, it’s possible to pick out some of threads that tie the record together – songs have a tendency to start small and end big, with the already vibrant opener “Lost Coastlines” ending with a catchy sing along of “la la la las” or the more subdued “On Tour With Zykos” breaking out from softly played piano keys to a moving instrumental sweep. Standing out among the tracks lies the staggering “Blue Tulip”, Sheff’s slow paced cry for love through the trappings of fame, eventually ending with a stirring, crashing crescendo of a pained “Goodbye… Goodbye…
”. Sheff’s vocals are powerful, but not in an over-the-top way, complementing the beautiful instrumental power of the rest of the band.
Yet this isn’t exactly ‘epic’ music, but probably rather just more thick
, a swirling soundscape with a blend of different instruments and moods, with a rainforest of lyrical themes to go with. Nevertheless, everything here is still lighthearted and airy, with layered melodies skipping from one to the next with a spring in step, never weighed down by overbearing musical passages that peaked out their heads in Okkervil’s previous releases. Some of course might prefer the slightly more rapid river twists of The Stage Names
and Black Sheep Boy
than the relaxed and cool river journey of The Stand-Ins
, but with a record this consistent, it’s really nothing to complain about.
Unlike fellow tale spinners The Decembrists then, Sheff and co. don’t rely on the force of the stories to propel the songs through the album, but focus on creating an equally impressive musical backdrop to hang their lyrical material from. And my gosh, what lyrics they are – largely a continuation of the themes spelled out in The Stage Names
, The Stand-Ins
once again revolves around the world of the musician and it’s bittersweet experiences, from fame ( ‘They’re waiting to hate you/So give them an excuse’
– “Blue Tulip”), to groupies (‘So I wonder who you got your hooks in tonight/was she happy to be hooked"’
– “On Tour With Zykos”) and the shallowness of pop (‘He's the liar who lied in his pop song/And you're lying when you sing along’
– “Pop Lie”). So despite the perhaps overused theme, these aren’t songs about ‘drugs, sex, Rock n’ Roll’, but the infinitely deeper and more complex intimacies of relationships, giving Okkervil’s music that emotional edge that so many others lack.
Still, the music is so finely crafted, it’s almost possible to float right past the album without even taking notice of the lyrics, being instead caught up and swept away amongst the pulsing bassline of “Coastlines”, the swaying loveliness of “Starry Stairs” or staggering, building beauty of “Blue Tulip”. So it’s a win-win situation either way, and the copious amounts of win here are makes The Stand-Ins
a great little album to be adored.