Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Stage Names

I came to Okkervil River late, and they’re an obvious addition to the growing list of bands I call “preppy rock.” Stars, Death Cab, Spoon, Sufjan — Pitchfork dubbed it “lit rock” due to the bands’ literary references and their compulsion to be too smart and sensitive for their own good.
     Okkervil River might not be the smartest or most sensitive of the bunch, but their fourth record, the recently released The Stage Names, has already been tipped as one of the year’s best. And while it has one of the year’s top singles (“Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe,” which can be heard on JeffMix2007.05.27), it is nevertheless more of a solid effort, rather than inspiring.
     There are some fine moments, including the playful “Plus Ones,” which alludes to several pop songs with numbers in their titles, finding out what would happen with one more luftballon or the 51st way to leave your lover. “Unless It Kicks” does just that — giving Stage Names its best rock and roll rush. “Savannah Smiles” is also a favourite, as lead singer Will Sheff paints a touching portrait of a parent wondering where the years have gone.
     But it’s been hard for me to not come away with the feeling that Okkervil River is just a poor-man’s Spoon. Not smart enough, not touching enough, and certainly not enough kick. B
Okkervil River:
Unless It Kicks (mp3)
Okkervil River: Savannah Smiles (mp3)

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