By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
The Stage Names shares the frenzy of preBlack Sheep songs like "The War Criminal Rises and Speaks," and if it isn't as monolithic as the album that spurred the band's rise to Believer-subscriber prominence, it does contain several fine examples of hyper-articulate hysteria. Frontman Will Sheff likes making a screaming mess of the kind of fastidious rhymes that Stephin Merritt would intone, and like Merritt, indulges in some pomo dabbling on the great "Plus Ones," which mentions "100 luftballoons," "eight Chinese brothers," andmost touchinglya 51st way to leave your lover, which "doesn't seem to be as gentle or as clean as all the others."
If Okkervil River's sonic seriousness is sometimes wearyingthe band plays classic rock only slightly less insistently than the Hold Steadytheir words bring a smile for their deftness. The Stage Names' big subjects are the numbed hearts of travelers and the muddled heads of those who hear and tell stories, but these aren't centers of gravity like Black Sheep's murderer; they're arch motifs rather than howling ghosts beneath every song. And often it's only the weird humor in Sheff's drawl that keeps things from crossing into bathos. Near the end of the suicide narrative "John Allyn Smith Sails," he deadpans the record's central line: "This is the worst trip I've ever been on."
Okkervil River play Webster Hall September 28, websterhall.com