Under Review: Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

Austin’s Okkervil River has become renowned for a few very peculiar reasons. First and foremost are the band’s lyrics. At once incendiary and sentimental, leader Will Sheff’s words are piled on thick, turning albums into journals and songs into vignettes. Sheff has also created a mystique about the group that carried over their last handful of albums. Okkervil River has become the thinking person’s indie band of choice; not quite hugely popular but certainly celebrated. Diverging from the multi-album arc of The Stage Names and The Stand Ins, Okkervil River’s latest, I Am Very Far, is a typically strong effort from a group that puts immense amounts of work into each production. As both a lyricist and arranger, Sheff has a preoccupation with pop music themes of yore. Some of his best works have been indictments against the innocence preached by those pioneering tracks, all the while operating within their sonic constructs. I Am Very Far’s almost preposterously big sound comes from a massive assemblage of musicians that Sheff brought together for a handful of tracks. The fluidity with which the band moves between percussive songs like “Wake And Be Fine” and the sparser “Show Yourself” is a testament to their never-ending quest for majesty.

Opening with “The Valley,” a sharp elegy to those who have fallen into “the valley of the rock n’ roll dead,” Sheff mourns those who have ventured too far off the creative. His own band walks that line on I Am Very Far, as he decided early on to push himself to write outside his comfort zone for this record. While he still sings with plenty of conviction, there’s vulnerability in Sheff’s voice on several of the new songs. In particular, Sheff sounds understandably cautious as he casts himself as the ‘other man’ in “Walked Out On A Line.” Musically, I Am Very Far is thoroughly satisfying. “Rider,” though it sounds an awful lot like “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe,” was the perfect choice for a featured single. The wall of sound-isms on “White Shadow Waltz” connect Sheff to his past, and “You Past Life As A Blast” sounds like a male-sung counterpoint to the Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II.” It’s a characteristically diverse mix that complements Sheff’s dense lyrical meditations. Boasting plenty of high and low culture, I Am Very Far is another gem in Okkervil River’s increasingly impressive array.

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~ by E. on May 9, 2011.

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