Okkervil River's The Stand Ins reiterates what reality shows like America's Got Talent have already made abundantly clear: We're obsessed with celebrity, or, at minimum, separating ourselves from the pack.
This is evident on the jazzy "Starry Stairs," wherein a diva is driven to ruin by bloodsucking fans, and rocker "Singer Songwriter," a Wes Anderson-esque narrative about a trust-funder who can't channel any artistic talent despite all the money, connections and desire in the world. Okkervil frontman Will Sheff's verse doesn't exactly discredit the pursuit of fame and fortune, but it doesn't exalt the simple, obscure life, either. The songs on his Austin indie-folk-pop band's new one—nuanced by myriad strings and horns—are only marginally inferior to the ones on last year's The Stage Names, a bull's-eye of an album and prelude to Stand Ins. Up-tempo numbers like "Pop Lie" and "Lost Coastlines" (a duet with ex-Okkerviler Jonathan Meiburg, now of sister band Shearwater) kick the butts of polar opposites like "Blue Tulip" and its wimpy, deliberate vocalizing.
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In each capacity, though, Sheff's turning of phrases both on paper and in his delivery of wordy lyrics continues to be quite a singular talent.