Acerbic Austinites bring dynamism and sentiment to their indie-gothic fables
Okkervil River is a clearinghouse of contemporary indie-rock tendencies -- the hand-sewn chamber pop of Bright Eyes, the symphonic sweep of the Arcade fire, the darkly playful arcana of The Decemberists, the super-nerd yelping of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. These sad-sack satirists pepper their fourth album with tracks that quicken the pace to anaerobic levels, as frontman Will Sheff liberally shpritzes his microphone while the band gets lathered up like participants in a grade-school dodgeball game. The rickety kineticism of "Unless it's Kicks" and "A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene" brings variety to the picaresque panoramas that dominate the album -- "A Girl in Port," colored by an aching pedal steel wrapped around N'awlins-style horns; "Title Song," its sinking ennui set off by regal organ and drum fills; and the corrosive self-loathing of Sheff's vocal on closing track "John Allyn Smith Sails." Most unexpected, though, is "Savannah Smiles," which unveils something new for this band: unabashed fatherly tenderness.