Okkervil River – The Stand Ins

Rating: ★★★½ ·

First off let me describe my distaste for songs that last under 1 minute running time, used mostly as some artistic statement, or as is the case in most places, useless filler. This album contains three such songs, which gives the fans of Okkervil River only eight new songs.  I don’t blame Okkervil River for their usage of this popular album filler; I just don’t understand it.

By now we’ve all been witness to the opening song, well, the second song–first one with words. “Lost Coastlines” was the first single released by the band, and as usual, it is one of the most immediately gratifying tracks of the album.  It seems to be the style of choice from these Austin heroes, as their albums always open with great strength.

They carry this ambition forward with “Singer Songwriter” and “Starry Stairs;” two of the stronger tracks on this album.  “Starry Stairs” features horn usage during the chorus, which definitely adds to the power of song, much in the way Beulah used the same instruments.  As it carries off into the end of the song, the guitars begin to grow a bit tedious; still, the song garners some interest do to the additional instruments in use.

For me, “Blue Tulip” is probably the least obvious song on the album for listeners, but there is such power in Will’s voice that it reminds you of his vocal meanderings in the early days.  His vocals alone carry the song all the way from start to finish, attracting the listener with every ounce of emotion he has available.  Slowly this song grows into your subconscious.

Then enters the next instrumental track from stage left.  It stops all the momentum the album had built up to this point.  You have to revert back to the previous tracks just to get back in the mood to move forward.  Yet another reason these little pieces should not be used.

“Pop Lie” enters as one of the more upbeat songs the band has written in years, yet it still just doesn’t have the punch of songs like “For Real,” from Black Sheep Boy.  I foresee moments of hand claps during the live show with this song, but it isn’t a winner for me.  “On Tour with Zykos,” is a beautiful song, where Will’s voice meets the piano in the most appropriate manner.  It’s clear that by this point in the band’s career that his voice has matured to extremely high levels–I still long for a little bit of that guttural noise.

“Calling and Not Calling My Ex” is the last song in this section of the album.  A good song, but not a great song.  At this point in the album I felt like more should have come my way as far as listening experiences go.  I know that the band originally intended a double LP, but these three songs fit in to what one can only assume are B-Sides.  They are all good songs, but none of them are great songs by any means, at least not in comparison to the tracks off Stage Names. And then they throw in another one of those instrumental pieces.  Annoyed.

The final song, “Bruce Wayne Campbell…” is a slow-burner, but midway through the song the entire piece picks up the pace.  It’s the perfect ending to this sub-par album.  There is loads of promise throughout the song, but as an entire piece it just doesn’t work.  It’s incomplete.

In summation I suppose that the last song encapsulates my feelings towards this album.  It doesn’t feel complete to me at all. The skeleton on the cover of The Stand Ins surely must be a representation of the skeletal imitations of these songs.  They are so bare bones at times that they lose the beauty that usually accompany the band’s later works.  I won’t say that I hate this album because there is plenty to enjoy, but it won’t get played over and over in my various listening stations until I start to mumble the words in my sleep.

New Okkervil River

ATH finally found an excuse to post about one of our favorite Austin acts Okkervil River. We have an mp3 of the band posted for you below called “Lost Coastlines” which is set to appear on the band’s latest The Stand Ins due out September 9th. “Lost Coastlines” features your last chance at Jonathan Meiburg in Okkervil, as he now fronts another Austin heavy hitter Shearwater. You can pre-order a copy of The Stand Ins from this fancy website.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/okkervil-river-lost-coastlines.mp3]

Download: Okkervil River – Lost Coastlines [MP3]

Okkervil River – Lost Coastlines

The highly anticipated release of Okkervil River‘s The Stand-Ins has finally let us get our hands on a single to toss your way. This song has an additional singer on it, or Will has done a lot of work on his vocals. The rest of the song seems really low-key, but in a throwback to old Okkervil River.  

Don’t forget that they will be playing this year at Austin City Limits, and I’m sure they’ll schedule another show around that time for all of us to enjoy.  

The Stand-Ins comes your way on September 9th via Jagjaguwar Records.  

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/lost-coastlines.mp3]

Download: lost-coastlines.mp3

Shearwater – Rook

Rating: ★★★★½

From the very first song, new Austin darlings Shearwater–via former Okkervil River bandmate, brought out a surprise. A minute into the first song and the music crashes against your ear. For me, it was the first of many surprises on this album that made it one of the best things I have heard this year. Jonathan Meiburg has finally come into his own.

Aside from the initial surprise, the thing that struck me as most fascinating was the loud/soft contrast between musical moments. It is this precise juxtaposition of sound levels that requires every listener to pay close detail to each note–which I feel ultimately brings you closer to the brilliance of this album. It’s a contrast between light and dark music, and in doing this so well, Meiburg has made an album that I feel stands completely alone–even if you choose to eliminate the lyrics entirely–which I don’t suggest.

Those lyrics, well, they are far better than I expected from my previous Shearwater experiences. “Home Life,” is a particular favorite, though I don’t dare to examine its meaning for fears of ruining your own interpretations. Now, accompanying those lyrics are supremely grandiose vocals. I was floored this time by the evolvement of his voice, which has little to compare it to–though initially I thought of Antony and the Johnsons–but it comes off much more epic.

Throughout this entire album I felt like I was on this enormous journey with various characters and within my own psyche–all of which I will gladly walk through again. This album carries you away with excellent vocals and sweeping musicianship, though I must admit that there is one journey not worth taking at all, “South Col,” which is the eighth track, and is a required skip to the next song.

I wish you all the best as you partake in your very own journey with Mr. Meiburg and his mates. May it be as fruitful to you as it was for me. Here is to good listening

Here’s the single off the new record entitled Rooks:
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/02-rooks.mp3]

Download: rooks.mp3

If you want to hear the entire album before you buy it, Shearwater is streaming it on their myspace page. Enjoy!

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