Friday, August 17, 2007

Okkervil River - The Stage Names

Okkervil River, "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe" (YSI link)

Okkervil River, "A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene" (YSI link)

It's rare that I go out and buy a CD right away, when it's just dropped. I'm always like 3 weeks behind, swamped by all of the stuff sent to me and that I'm finding and my own tangents, a perpetual state of catch-up. So, you know it's a big deal when I go and cop an album immediately. A new Okkervil River album is a big deal; Will Sheff's music is so special to me, in that highest pantheon (okay, maybe right below the Dylan-Smiths level, for now), music that I simultaneously want to keep just for myself and want to scream about to the world. I've chosen the latter, as this man's music is too amazing and wonderful and unique to not be heard by everyone.

His new album, The Stage Names, is the long awaited follow-up to Black Sheep Boy, his 2005 masterpiece. My expectations were so high, I almost felt bad, no way dude could live up to them. I've been listening to the last album frequently for the past few months. First listen was a run-through, I needed to realize that I wasn't going to get Black Sheep Boy 2, that this was a totally different album which I needed to give its own space. Once I did, I realized that this is another amazing album, that rarest of creations in today's music world, the seamless album that you throw on and spend an hour with. It's just about perfect, dark, introspective lyrics, anger, sadness, pain, love, this is exactly what I want to be hearing right now, it so reflects my own mood it's eerie.

"Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe" is the opening track and my favorite right now, it literally brought tears to my eyes on second listen. It's all about Sheff's voice, which has this immediacy that only the greats have for me. It easily conveys sadness, anger, whatever. Here, it has the intensity of someone trying not to yell, desperately trying to not let things get out of hand. There's some amazing backup vocals, an almost 60s girls group thing going on, which leads me to the main difference for me with this album and the previous one. On The Stage Names, the backing music makes more of an impression on me; on Black Sheep Boy, Sheff, his voice and lyrics dominate, for me. There are more memorable songs on the last one, whereas this one is more of a group effort.

Here's the plan for your weekend. First, buy this album at your local store (or online if that's not an option) and take a few hours one day and listen to it as many times as possible. Second, go out and dance at one of the amazing parties going down in your city. Finally, pick a neighborhood and walk around your city and consider the mixture of past, present and future in the buildings, the people, the graffiti, etc. Deal?

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