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Okkervil River

Alternative and Indie

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About Okkervil River

Any thriving music scene will swiftly fill up with mediocre chancers and bandwagon-jumpers. But today's very popular British indie scene is unusual in consisting of almost nothing else. It's as if every born C-student in the country has taken up the guitar.
Meanwhile, their transatlantic counterparts turn out one fine album after another. Case in point: The Stand Ins by Okkervil River.

This act hails from Austin, Texas, a progressive city in a conservative state. While there is no such thing as an Austin sound, there is a longstanding Austin ethos: an instinct for going against to grain that reveals itself in music that's unmistakably of its territory yet oddly apart from it. A similar impulse once distinguished the best of British indie but is now sorely lacking.

The Stand Ins is really half a double album: the completion of last year's The Stage Names.
Will Sheff is one of those dauntlessly literate songwriters flourishing in American music (see also Colin Meloy of The Decemberists and The Hold Steady's Craig Finn), exuding justifiable confidence in their ability to compress intricate and nuanced stories into pop-shaped packages.

Like The Decemberists, Okkervil River are a sprawling folk-influenced band, wielding a formidable selection of instruments, both traditional and modern. They are unafraid of sweeping melodies and high drama, but blessed - or maybe cursed - with a raw-boned candour that wards off the inanity described with such precise loathing in Pop Lie.

Each song on The Stand Ins reveals, in telling and at times cutting detail, an individual persona: the vacuous artiste of Singer-Songwriter, trading on his pedigree; the stalker-fan Blue Tulip; the former boyfriend of a rising star in Calling And Not Calling My Ex.

It's like the character list for a film, that now won't need to be made, about the price of fame: not for those who serve them, lose them, envy them, abhor them.

It would be silly to suggest British indie acts should be making albums like this very American opus. But if even a few of them showed anything like its ambition or imagination, that would at least be a start.