Okkervil River - The stand ins
Will Sheff, lead singer with Okkervil Rivers has, at various times, been a music journalist. With this in mind you feel sure that he'd be able to deal with the statement that sometimes his songs on this, the Austin band's fifth full-length album, can be a little too honest and a touch too clever for their own good.
The Stand Ins is supposedly the sister to the previous album, The Stage Names. The album's first half is frankly disappointing compared to its more accessible predecessor - the songs words not being matched by arrangements startling or distinctive enough - a bit too much acoustic-driven indie sludge. But, by the second half the chemistry starts to fizz and Sheff's clever wordplay finally gets the setting it deserves, with the closing tex mex drift of the marvellously-titled Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed On The Roof Of The Chelsea Hotel, 1979 really saving the day, using mariachi horns and pedal steel to approximate a kind of downer Calexico.
Most of The Stand Ins seems almost too keen to leave you speechless by the use of autobiographical material. The songs characters are all depicted so as to make it obvious to the subjects who they are: the mistreated ex in Pop Lie, the mentor/artist in Singer Songwriter, another ex in Calling And Not Calling My Ex. And the musicologist/geek side to Sheff is aired on the aforementioned Bruce Wayne campbell... (being about failed glam legend, Jobriath). Meanwhile, On Tour With Zykos comes from the angle of a creative female, frustated that she sidesteps her own writing abilities to smoke a bowl and watch TV after sleeping with an un-named gigging musician.
Ultimately, while awkward, this is still good stuff. And if Sheff's other dayjob, Shearwater, represents his more widescreen bent, drawing in elements of Talk Talk among many others, The Stand Ins still finds space for three drifting instrumentals between tracks (from which the album takes its name), the only downside being that they leave you wanting more. Regular listeners will certainly lap this up.
Record is a fairly good standard pressing. Sound is a bit compressed and wall of soundish but not ear bleeding. Minimal enough packaging. Insert but no picture sleeve or gatefold.