Okkervil River – The Stand Ins
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
I think I like this one as much as The Stage Names now. At first I thought the songs were a little non-descript but then they grew on me. Really, this record is all about the lyrical themes that Sheff brought up on The Stage Names, and how Sheff explores these and actually writes some better songs. Lyrically, “On Tour With Zykos” is one of his best songs ever. It's a story told from a groupie's point of view, her life, her job, the boring shit she does unless some touring band is in town, and it creates a sympathetic character of her. She's attractive, constantly getting hit on by guys but can't make a real connection with anyone in her town. She might connect with the guys in the bands, but they've gotta hit the road the next morning so it doesn't matter. She resigns herself to staying in, smoking pot and watching TV movies. They tell her she matters but she knows they don't mean it. “Starry Stairs” is the second song Sheff has written about porn star Savannah and it's so much better than the maudlin “Savannah Says.” It's actually one of my favorite songs on the record. Originally released as a B-side for The Stage Names, here they add sleighbells and make it sort of a Christmas song. It's quite like “On Tour with Zykos,” in that it's about a woman who gets attention from dudes but it's always the wrong kind of attention. The attention she gets isn't for her, but her persona, and ultimately it's about her balancing the two until she can't. The end of her story, which isn't in the song, is that she's in a car accident and her face is ruined. Instead of calling for help she commits suicide, as her persona has become who she is. It's like a greek myth...with porn. There are more characters here. “Lost Coastlines” feels like a send off for Jonathan Meiburg, who announced he was leaving the band after this record to focus on Shearwater. It's a duet between he and Sheff and it's fantastic. “Singer Songwriter” is the song I always wanted to hear about how these seemingly boring songwriters are able to record records. The answer: They've got rich parents. “And you're quick to betray with one well-turned-out wave of your hand, that you come from wealth,” he sings. We've seen it all before. Again, it's a song about constructing a persona. This guy can have whatever he wants and he wants to be a singer songwriter so ok, he can do that. He can act the part. He can buy the right records and buy the right books, he can make himself cool because he can afford to construct himself as someone who is cool. It's about people who are really fucking pretentious, basically, without having anything to be pretentious about. The songs here are more subtle, melody wise, but the writing is better.
One of the promotional tools for this record was the band getting their friends (from other bands) to cover songs on The Stand Ins, effectively standing in for the band and making everything oh so meta. Lawrencian Jordan Geiger (of Hospital Ships/ Minus Story) does a version of "Bruce Wayne Campbell," the last song on the record. I like to think that Sheff and Geiger first met that time I saw Minus Story open for Okkervil River in 2003. Geiger later sang on their song "A Favor" from the Sleep to Wake Up Songs EP. So this is cool.