OKKERVIL RIVER: The Stand Ins [Jagjaguwar]

A year removed from 2007’s blog-tastically acclaimed The Stage Names, Okkervil River is back with its sequel, a collection of songs drawn from the same recording sessions. Think of it as a lit-rock Use Your Illusion II. While The Stage Names jettisoned much of Okkervil River’s former folk and orchestral-pop leanings, The Stand Ins leaves the door open to its roots, from now-former member Jonathan Meiburg’s ringing banjo opening “Lost Coastlines” to the appropriately Highway 61-leaning “Singer Songwriter,” a biting and brilliant takedown of the artistic leisure class. Such vintage touches mesh nicely with leader Will Sheff’s earnest vocal delivery, but elsewhere, Okkervil River’s less-adventurous approach reveals some songs for what they are: perfectly capable if unmemorable vehicles for Sheff’s lyric novellas. “Blue Tulip” meanders too long before falling into a cathartic finish, and the wordy “Pop Lie” finds Sheff indulging his fascination with his own vocation. The latter track, a rocked-out confessional, dares to close with a straight-faced recitation of the song’s “dedicated to” note, a move that feels both audacious and staggeringly precious. Okkervil River can deliver terrific songs when ambitions are kept in balance, but this uneven record is in dire need of an editor. []

—Chris Barton