Return to Okkervil River

Photo by David Greenwald (more here)

Black Sheep Boy is one of my favorite records from the last few years, a dark, incisive picture of life through an American Gothic lens. So it’s with bated breath that I’ve been waiting to hear The Stage Names, the band’s big follow-up. As expected, it’s an album of the band’s trademark ragtag rock and ramshackle ballads, but, uh, channeled through Chuck Berry.

The Stage Names — or as I like to call it, Okkervil B. Good — has a song that’s straight out of the sock-hop: “Unless It’s Kicks.” That particular track is an awkward fit for the band, especially when their recordings are still painted in foggy sepia tones. On other tunes they embrace their usual style: the string-laden “Savannah Smiles” is a winner (and sounds like Will Sheff’s work with Shearwater) and “Plus Ones” runs smiling through a chord change that Sheff’s probably used a million times. Names is a looser, rockier record than its predecessor, and for that reason and others, it’s less of a triumph than BSB. But maybe it’ll grow on me, them being one of my favorite bands and all.

Okkervil River – “Life is Not a Movie or Maybe”: mp3

(The Stage Names is due Aug. 7 on Jagjaguwar)

Previously: Live: Okkervil River


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