Austin-based Okkervil River's release The Stage Names, a beautifully crafted album discussing the obsession with celebrity and populated with "mid-level bands," washed-up porn stars, and poets jumping off bridges, was on several Best Of lists for 2007.
The Stand Ins is the sequel to that album-further expanding on the idea of life for those slightly outside of the spotlight. Is the idea of fame, a public face, and the emptiness of acclaim enough to fill two albums full of songs? Well, when the songs are written by Will Sheff, yes.
"Lost Coastlines" picks up with the story of that mid-level band, one last beautiful duet with parting band member Jonathon Meiburg (who left Okkervil River this spring to focus on his equally successful band, Shearwater) describes the Jack Sparrow-ish troubles of a band leader pretending to know where the future of a now upper mid-level band is headed. "Singer/songwriter", with its honky-tonk Lucinda Williams feel, is a great put down song, listing the accolades of the subject's family, then proclaiming "You've got taste, what a waste that that's all that you have."
"Calling and Not Calling my Ex" is a romping yet poignant song about witnessing the success of the one who got away, amplifying the singer's pedestrian, pathetic life. The crown piece of the album is "Pop-Lie" (which opens with a completely intentional appropriation of a Tom Petty guitar riff) an ironic tribute to every top ten you ever loved growing up.
While not initially as striking a masterpiece as The Stage Names, this album more than reinforces Okkervil's excellent reputation. The orchestration is incredibly complex- the band, pared with Sheff's vocals, creates beautiful messes, exemplifying the idea that things don't always make the cut. Okkervil is one of those critically acclaimed bands that put on a tremendous live show (besides Radiohead, the best I have ever seen), has stellar songwriting, and luckily doesn't get over hyped.