Will Sheff has been known to balk at the term "lit-rock," but there's no getting around the fact that the Okkervil River frontman can be wordy. On last year's mostly awesome arts-and-entertainment deconstruction The Stage Names, Sheff's punk sneering and stalker crooning occasionally came off like a chat with a brilliant, well-read, too-talkative friend: At a certain point, it became tough to pay attention. Remarkably, though, the album's "sequel," The Stand Ins, feels relatively uncluttered. Sheff's narratives are still generous with details about porn stars ("Starry Stairs" finds them "slithering up rose corridors") and bland rich kids ("you wrote your thesis on the Gospel of Thomas"), but they're also more focused than before, sharply describing characters who embrace the lies they find in art or in their heads for the sake of sanity. Backing away from the eager-to-astonish, Arcade Fire-like grandeur of the last album, the songs often opt for the swagger and twang of '70s AM radio, confining much of the pathos to instrumental interludes that fittingly share their name with the album title: Like a sunset, movie score, or storybook ending, they're beautiful stand-ins for drama that the real world doesn't provide.