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.