10.) Okkervil River - The Stage Names/The Stand Ins (2007,2008)

I know, I know I am absolutely cheating here, but I can't help it. Since The Stand Ins was released I have a difficult time separating these records. They feel like one record to me. Or at the very least a continuation of an idea. So, I'm including them together because asking me to pick one is cruel.

The Stage Names was released in August of 2007 and it became the only thing I listened to through the fall. It was that kind of record for me. Other things would be purchased and listened to once or twice but ultimately I wanted to be listening to The Stage Names. The Stage Names is a record, like most of my favorites, unfolds. It's not a one and done thing.

I buy records... like, the actual media. I'll download stuff from time to time, but for the most part I want to go to a store, buy something, bring it home and actually spend time with it. Sometimes it feels silly like "get on with it, pal no one buys CDs anymore". But then sometimes it all makes sense to me.

I can remember bringing The Stage Names home, putting it in the CD player, putting on my headphones, holding the lyric sheet and just being mesmerized by the whole thing. Like I was kid. I wanted to follow along. These stories were compelling. I cared about these character (plus it made it a lot easier to spot the references in "Plus Ones"). That's what makes music special for me. I take it seriously. It captivates me in a way that nothing else does. When I love a record, I want that record to become a part of everything I do. I'm inspired by these records that I've been writing about. The Stage Names/The Stand Ins are inspiring. They're equal parts sad and funny and poignant and pretentious and illuminating. They're a rush of emotions.

These are two records that I couldn't shake. They were just so perfect and complimented each other effortlessly. It's easy to think of The Stand Ins as a sequel, but to me "sequel" can be a dirty word. Rather, The Stand Ins is a wonderful companion piece. The equally talented younger brother. And like, The Stage Names it's brilliant both from a writing perspective and from a simple pop music perspective. They're sequenced to perfection and they're accessible without sacrificing and ounce of intelligence. With The Stage Names/The Stand Ins Okkervil River have made two of the best American rock 'n roll records and I'm surprised by the lack of love for them during this list making season.

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