Okkervil River's seventh album is set in Meriden, New Hampshire (population 500), home of lead singer Will Sheff. The year is 1986 or thereabouts, putting Sheff at age eight or so, depending on the track. The songs are like campfire storytelling, capturing perfectly the simple ups and magnified downs of a rural upbringing.
Sheff is a capable autobiographer, and the sometimes Counting Crows-like rambling narration seems like the kernel of a novel, or maybe a musical. The tunes are all pleasant: Down Down The Deep River has peppy backup vocals evoking Tom Petty, while synths lend electronic interest to the brassy Stay Young. On the whole, the band's country-leaning indie rock pulses along for 49 minutes at a decent clip. But there's no sense of the throat-tightening despair and palpable rage the band has shown at its best (2005's Black Sheep Boy). Walking Without Frankie's anxious beat comes close to that emotional urgency but falls just short. If this is to be a musical, it's missing its Memory.
Top track: Walking Without Frankie
Okkervil River play the Phoenix September 28.