There’s a reason why Okkervil River’s latest record, “The Stand Ins,” sounds a lot like their last release, “The Stage Names;” it’s because they were recorded at the same time. Slightly less contemplative than its predecessor, “The Stand Ins” consists of tunes that didn’t make it on last year’s fantastic release. But don’t call it an outtakes or B-Sides album.
Although “The Stand Ins” is not quite as good as “The Stage Names,” it’s probably not a fair comparison. “Stage Names” was the band’s best work—a tour-de-force that finally brought together, and made into a comprehensive whole, the complex musical lines and
styles that the group includes on every album. But “Stand Ins” is still very good. Beginning with a strange and brief introductory track, it immediately grabs and bounces along “Lost Coastlines.” From there, it goes immediately into another fast track, “Singer Songwriter,” before slowing a little—but just a little—on “Starry Stairs.” This track is one of my
favorites on the album. The borderline mariachi sound is the perfect counterbalance to Will Sheff’s mourning, somewhat flat voice. The slow-to-build “Blue Tulip” is another gem here—don’t quit before the end.
Overall, the album showcases the band’s pop side, one not as clearly on display on any of their earlier works – especially on the single, “Pop Lie,” which, in the hands of different singer, could easily be a top 40 tune. In 1995. But hey, pop is pop. There’s even a Holiday song, “Calling and Not Calling My Ex,” a beautifully romantic tale with gentle lyrics like, “She’s so sweet on Christmas Eve/With the snow set deep when we went walking through the pines.” More accessible than most indie rock albums, and definitely more accessible than previous Okkervil River albums, “Stand Ins” is a worthy release.