GoGoIndieCritic :: Okkervil River :: The Stage Names

We all want our lives to be like the movies. Overcome some terrible trials with a John Wayne swagger and a wry Bogart grin, kiss Lauren Bacall, and live happily ever after - or at least die a hero’s death trying. Reality is a much more tedious exercise in banality and frustration, which is why we’re so fascinated with films in the first place. On their fourth full-length, Okkervil River explores the disappointment with a life unglamorous in what is perhaps the best-written album of the year.

From the opening track 'Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe,' singer Will Sheff complains, 'It’s just a life story/ Where there’s no climax,' launching an album of indictments of forced mid-level success and the plight of the working class. It’s a familiar subject, covered even by fellow Austin-ites Spoon, but Sheff’s downright poetic lyrics single out this album as one of the best of its kind. The album ends with 'John Allyn Smith Sails,' a look at indie rock’s recent inspiration, poet John Berryman, that eventually steals/rewrites The Beach Boys’ 'Sloop John B,' turning it into a dark but hysterical joke about suicide. The line, 'Well, this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on,' takes on a whole new meaning. It’s something that only a brilliant songwriter like Sheff could pull off.

The band plays their part as well, creating a cinematic musical soundscape with the intimacy of early Elvis Costello and bombastic build and climaxes of Bruce Springsteen. A great deal of credit must go to Okkervil River drummer and founder Seth Warren who drives the album like a halfway broken-down tour van. The music carries such passion through its swells that Sheff can then sing with the conviction that his astoundingly personal lyrics deserve.

4.3 out of 5

Bonus: The new video for 'Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe.'

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