Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Okkervil River - The Stand Ins

Take a good look at these (semi)merged album covers. Notice something? Well, you should. When oriented correctly they line up nicely to form a pretty cool double-album. Now you may ask, "Didn't the album on top come out around this time last year?" Why yes, yes it did. Okkervil River put out one of the best albums I heard last year called The Stage Names. At the time I had no clue that it was actually the first disc of a planned double album. If I had known this fact I would have been even more excited to get its companion titled The Stand Ins. As it was I was thrilled to get a listen a full month before its retail release. Few bands even consider the concept of a double album these days. Just the thought of 20 - 28 tracks of original material is probably a headache to most bands. After all, there's a reason why most albums are a certain length. It usually takes a set amount of time to get all a band's musical ideas onto one disc. Recent failures in double discdom include such missteps as Stadium Arcadium by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Come to think of it, what was the last double album that was truly worth both discs? Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness? That's the only one I can think of off the top of my head, and that came out in 1995! The reason they (double albums) don't often work is actually the freedom that comes with so many tracks and so much time to fill. The operative word being "fill." There is way too much free-wheeling with 20+ tracks at a band's disposal. Having constraints of 12-14 tracks makes the band winnow ideas and attempt to throw away the mediocre tracks. On bad double albums (which is most of them) bands throw in multiple filler songs to go along with the gems, leaving the compilation full of ups and downs. Most often the effort gets dragged down by those lowlights and leaves fans saying, "this would have been a great single album without these 8-10 mediocre/bad/b-side/demo-quality tracks." So, where does this leave Okkervil River? Glad you asked.

Thankfully, this final half to to their double album was well worth the wait. Lead singer-songwriter is the one who could pull this off. His deliberate lyrics and songwriting lends itself to the idea of a double album. He was able to see the whole picture and make sure it was executed in a near-perfect manner. I'm sure he even thought about the cover art being linked/matchable. It shows the cohesive thought that is necessary to pulling off such an endeavor. Judging the albums back-to-back is fair and actually work quite well together. They sound like they were conceived as a unit with maybe a little respit in between to recharge the batteries. One its own The Stand Ins is quite a good album. It's less edgier than it's older brother, but harmonically sound through and through. Another idea worth noting is the fact both albums have legs of their own. Like a perfect pair of twins; they're perfectly fun together, but individually they have their own great personalities and you can enjoy them both ways. So, people that are worried that this follow-up (more like continuation) is a bunch of glorified b-sides can rest easy because it's not.

"Singer Songwriter"


Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a huge Okkervil River fan. I presume you are familiar with "Black Sheep Boy" and the "Appendix" thereto? That's what they have done this time too, although I feel that the concept worked better with BSS than the Stage Names, and the Stage Names is one of my favorite all time records. I've listened to the leak of The Stand Ins and I am not yet convinced it was worth it. Maybe I should listen more (and will maybe feel less guilty when I have purchased the actual product).

Keep on bloggin' down the Okkervil River!

Adam said...

Howdy Ethan, nice musicblog, sir! Guess it takes one to know one cause I blog music all the time (among other things) as well; doubly glad I randomly stumbled into you on facebook now! You're getting blog-rolled, hope that's cool.

I've had the Stand Ins leak for about a week or so now, and a couple listens in, I definitely am digging it more than Stage for your rhetorical question about the last decent double album (or, at least, set of companion-albums): what about Kid A/Amnesiac?

PS - related question: does the guy singing the lower/tenor part on "Lost Coastlines" not sound EXACTLY like Jens Lekman? Or is it just me?

-Adam T.

nycblack said...

Stopping by to show some love to a fellow music lover. I admire and am inspired by lovers of music...especially those willing to step outside the mainstream and remain true to themselves. Stop by and visit sometime.

Much respect to you and best regards,
Me Like Good Music - The Source for Underrated Music