I’ll be honest. Before hearing The Stage Names, I was fairly unfamiliar with Okkervil River. I had heard them a few times around, but never had really gave them a honest listen. But after hearing their 2007 album, I was hooked. It’s everything one could want in an album – passionate and vivid lyrics, intense and compelling sound and an unbelievable underlying theme. I think Popmatters put it best saying, “part of [Will] Sheff’s new statement seems to be that music—as a cohesive factor, as a meaning for life—is a valid alternative to despair. The Stage Names is just one of those albums where music does all the talking. Even in the darkest of lyrical themes, it has a way of reminding you that, music can bring about some good.
The sound of The Stage Names is both powerful and fierce, but also soft and pleasant. Though I didn’t do rankings, the album’s first track, “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” is easily my choice for song of the year. The song almost sets the mood and the theme for the rest of the album. With the lyrics “It’s just a life story, so there’s no climax./No more new territory, so pull away the imax,” Sheff and company assert the idea that life is not at all like a movie. It’s full of despair, agony and suffering. Yet blending with these heartfelt ideas is the melodies of catchy guitar riffs that sound almost like they are getting louder throughout the song. And it is this intensity and passion that presents the idea of music as an alternative. You almost become overcomed by it’s rocky nature and forget about the actual message being conveyed.
Yet in the next song “Unless It Kicks”, Sheff discuses the almost at times overwhelming nature of music, “What breaks this heart the most is the ghost of some rock and roll fan/Exploding up from the stands.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though because through music, no one will ever be truly alone. And this is truly what makes The Stage Names great. It conveys what all of us, who are music fans, have thought at one point or another. But it does it with thought provoking lyrics and a beautiful, full sound.
Buy the album on Amazon.com