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The Stage Names

4 Stars

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & t is quite easy to confuse artistic rendering with autobiography -- it happens all the time. The best reason for resisting this temptation with regard to Okkervil River's sophomore album? The title itself. The stage names within the context of the album allow Will Sheff and his bandmates the capacity for spiritual migration, and the results are stunning. Not as obviously dour as 2005's Black Sheep Boy, The Stage Names sets a different standard by giving the haunting, probing lyrics an upbeat tempo.

"John Allyn Smith Sails," the closing track, says everything and nothing. Condensing the horror of poet John Berryman's dramatic suicide plunge, Sheff shifts at the midpoint into the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B." Giving Berryman's unceremonious end a paternal, Americana-like quality, as well as emotional connectivity, the song laments loss on multiple levels while summarizing the depth of the album's previous eight tracks. But remember: It's all just stage names.


DOWNLOAD: "John Allyn Smith Sails"


The Pretender

4 Stars

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & his music expands. It expands, and then, without warning, it explodes to an epic level that describes the beginning of a whole new genre of indie music. It's clumsy (but in the who-cares-if-my-voice-cracked-during-that-last-track kind of way) and epic at the same time. Call it "cleptic." It's a kind of music that We All Have Hooks for Hands exemplifies.

With the release this April of their freshman album, The Pretender, this nine-piece group from Sioux Falls, S.D., has joined the ranks of the miscategorized or, perhaps, the unclassifiable. Their sound treads the same ground as Animal Collective and Tap Tap. The songs swell with feeling and then break into high-energy frenzies that dare you not to dance (or at least, you know, tap your foot a little). Utilizing every instrument available (horns, violins, drums, keyboards), this album combines the youthful ideal of playful instrumentalism with the talent of a well-constructed song.


DOWNLOAD: "The Teeth That Feed the Lions"
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