When most first heard of Okkervil River through their breakthrough 2005 release Black Sheep Boy, they nodded, but it was soon to be tossed aside with The National’s Alligator and forgotten by 2007. However, Okkervil front-man Will Sheff wanted to be remembered long-term when he ambitiously created his band’s fourth full-length – The Stage Names.
Taking a cue from Conor Oberst, Sheff goes all nighter in the song-writing department, with detailed stories wrapped around laborious lyrics. Take “Plus Ones,” where Sheff takes titles of popular songs with numbers in the lyrics (adds one number to the original) and molds a story. This is all fine, if you enjoy hearing about 100 luftballoons, but the rest of Okkervil River along with a hired gun orchestra, makes The Stage Names feel like a feel good freak-folk caravan.
Sheff’s voice either comes off either passionately cool or obnoxiously whiney, but than again, Okkervil isn’t for the loud minded. The opener,”Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe” is a modern day Netflix hipster anthem – one of everyday life not living up to that of the big screen. The slow numbers “Savannah Smiles” and the country-flushed “Girl in Port,” are short and sweet but beg for some rock, while “You Can’t Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man,” hits on all levels- smooth harmonies, rockabilly guitar and clean hooks. The Stage Names concludes with "John Allyn Smith Sails," played to the melody of the Beach Boys’ "Sloop John B," where Sheff admits, "This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on,” before later singing – “I wanna go home." Brian Wilson would be proud.