Okkervil River's 2007 almost-masterpiece Stage Names presented a vivid dissection of the "Silver Screen," both literally and metaphorically as filtered through the crowded, cerebral library of bandleader (and one-time film student) Will Sheff. 2008's Stand Ins doesn't just complement Stage Names (which was originally conceived as a two-disc package), it completes it. Opening with the first of three mini-instrumentals that sound like a mash-up of Bill Frisell's Nashville and Radiohead's Kid A, Stand Ins revisits many of the central themes (loneliness, failure, hero worship, and broken love) that bounced around the set of Stage Names. Songs like "Lost Coastlines" (a duet with former member and current Shearwater main man Jonathan Meiburg), with its Motown bassline, copious "la, la, la's," and "Old West" horn section, "Blue Tulip" with its slow-burn build and explosive finale, and "Singer Songwriter" with its lament that "This thing you once did might have dazzled the kids/but the kids once grown up are going to walk away" are all instant Okkervil classics, but it's the nearly six-minute closer that seals the deal. Like "John Allyn Smith Sails," Stage Names' ode to doomed poet John Berryman, "Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979," a tribute to gay glam rock icon Jobriath, who was adored and then devoured by the press in the mid-'70s before dying of AIDS in 1983 a poor lounge act, presents its subject as tragic, misunderstood, and buried beneath the weight of his accomplishments. It's a subject that suits Sheff's writing style well, flowing out like an Americana version of something off of Scott Walker's self-penned fourth album. Stand Ins glows a little less bright than its predecessor, but it shines nonetheless. There may be nothing as immediately satisfying as "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe," "Plus Ones," or "Girl in Port," but it offers a more streamlined ride than Stage Names, wasting very little time trying to squeeze every last bit of scarlet pulp from the blood orange.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger