Okkervil River | I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar)

Mid-song a filing cabinet can be heard being thrown across the room while Sheff sings about the world shaking and breaking.




Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff tucked himself away in his home in New Hampshire to come up with the blueprint for I Am Very Far. If he hadn’t honed his musical abilities he’d have been just fine as a novelist. He paints vivid pictures with ominous and sometimes gothic lyricism. Some songs, such as album opener “The Valley,” could easily have been penned by the mysteriously brutal Nick Cave. The apocalyptic thuds and haunting strings match the beautifully brooding and conflicted observations of a man new to the world, juxtaposed with descriptions of violence.

The songs were recorded in a myriad of studios, and it shows. At first listen it’s questionable why these songs are all on one album; they sound so peculiarly different. But Sheff produced, and he clearly knew he could pull off such a feat as blending songs of warmth, violence, disorientation, and in some cases, understanding on an album of such extreme opposites. The songs were all produced in a different fashion, and the lyrics to one part of a given song pull in one direction while the next verse pulls in another. “Piratess” develops with the protagonist refusing to accept the lies and deceit that come with this girl, and by the final verse he’s calling her a murderess. Yet this sneaky girl who has claimed victims of love has sucked him in, even though he knows he’s being played and emotionally killed like all the others. Sheff puts up a lot of battles throughout the album, and it’s hard to know where he’s going to end up. The solo created out of a fast-forwarding and rewinding boombox in “Piratess” brings to the forefront his indecision over what to do with all the pieces of life being built on top of one another.

The sensationally rowdy rockers, “Rider” and “Wake Up and Be Fine,” bring more instruments into the mix than ever before. Two drummers, two pianists, two bassists, and seven guitarist all play together in one room to create the epic sound that only Sheff’s voice could match. The former evokes feelings and images rather than insight and understanding. The latter’s lyrics are motored out of Sheff’s mouth just as on “The Valley,” but he seems to be accepting that things can bounce back in his favor. With all his conflicting lyrics of violence and serenity, he finally is told in a dream that “there’s still time to wake and be fine.” Shake those demons! “White Shadow Waltz” is epic in its instrumental palette, using strings, tympani, bassoon, and tuba on top of the normal arrangement. Mid-song a filing cabinet can be heard being thrown across the room while Sheff sings about the world shaking and breaking. The music is forever building, along with elongated wailings reminiscent of Devotchka’s “How it Ends” from Little Miss Sunshine.

Two slow, sad songs are back to back in the middle of the album, “Hanging from a Hit,” and “Show Yourself,” before the album is shaken back to glorious madness. Both songs are simple, pretty, and a bit tragic. They aren’t missteps, because by the time these tracks are reached, it’s already clear that all the rules have been thrown out and the mood of disorientation and wonderment is being played out in bizarre ways. The mystery of life and people can be heard not only in the words, but also in the music. There aren’t any straight-up fun songs like “Unless it’s Kicks” from The Stage Names, but enough rockers are here to keep the album moving in… what direction? In any case, the maturation of Okkervil River has been underway since day one. And after hearing them pull off this monumental rebirth into the world of pleasure and pain, one can only wonder what gems the next chapter of Okkervil River will have in store. B+ | Alex Schreiber  

RIYL: Roky Erickson, DeVotchKa, Nick Cave, Spoon



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