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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Okkervil River
Stage Names

Rating: 7/10 ?

March 11, 2008
Stage Names arrived on the scene last fall with extremely large shoes to fill, as the band's previous album, Black Sheep Boy, had been considered one of the best albums of 2005 by many critics. The success of that album catapulted this Austin-based band into the upper echelon of indie rock music, and at first listen Stage Names varies from its predecessor in that it is less experimental, and certainly more up tempo. However, the increase in tempo doesn't translate into better results for the band, which might explain why LAS slept on reviewing it. The music still grabs the listener and draws them into Will Sheff's emotional and volatile world, but it pulls perhaps a bit too hard. While the album has definite artistic and philosophical merit, it ultimately fails to impact the current indie rock scene in terms of evolution and creativity.

The album commences with a catchy and triumphant number, "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe," a track that promptly quells any worries fans might have had concerning whether Stage Names would deliver enchanting and colorful music. The track bursts with decorous piano and crisp guitar riffs, and is one of the few tracks that doesn't appear to hide behind Sheff's demonstrative and overly loquacious lyrics, which are an unfortunate constant throughout the rest of the album. The song does incorporate various experimental interludes, and at times sounds like Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy's I'm Trying to Break Your Heart.

"Unless It's Kicks" and "A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene" continue the upbeat momentum established in the opener, as both utilize extremely catchy riffs and lyrics. However, the album falls from its great heights after the fourth track, as the melodies transition from innovative to somewhat predictable. But, the album doesn't fall too far, as Sheff's poetic lyrics and the band's overall musical talent provide enough spark to keep listeners interested. Of the remaining tracks, "You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man" resembles a Johnny Cash b-side, and "John Allyn Smith Sails" certifies itself as the pinnacle of Stage Names' second half. The latter part of "John Allyn" even incorporates some of the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" lyrics, which fit nicely into the progression and overall character of the song.

As the band conveys catchy, melodic tunes, most of the songs seem to be overshadowed by Sheff's lyrics. It's not that the lyrics are deficient or inadequate, they're just overabundant. The former rock critic and English major at times appears better suited to composing poems. They certainly work with the music throughout the first part of the album, as the songs are more crafted to allow for lyrical exploration. But the second half of Stage Names seems more like a pleasant poetry reading. Additionally, the passion and intensity of Sheff's lyrics don't match up to those on the band's previous album.

As much as I enjoy Stage Names, it will never be as highly regarded as the comparitavely masterpiece Black Sheep Boy, as the songs lack the depth and magnitude needed to influence a much more musically inclined indie fan base. The band does have a bright future, but it is ambiguous as to where they are headed. Any way they direct themselves, they will likely continue to produce some of the best indie rock on the scene, drawing a loyal following that is both musically and poetically inclined. But in order for Okkervil River to build upon their success with Black Sheep Boy and reach beyond the small circle of listeners already familiar with them, they must bridge the gap between the musical genius of the band and Sheff's overly loquacious lyrics.

Reviewed by Brian Christopher Jones
A student living in Scotland and working toward a PhD in law.

See other reviews by Brian Christopher Jones



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