REVIEW: Okkervil River – “I Am Very Far”

Okkervil River / I Am Very Far / Jagjaguwar

The maritime emotion and imagery that Texas group Okkervil River used so well in its previous album The Stand Ins turns up in fine form in several tracks on their new follow-up I Am Very Far (“Piratess”, “Mermaid”), but this effort is not a sequel or a continuation of themes. The result is a collection of songs that are often more bombastic, discordant and less accessible than on those last two records, which stand as clever experiments in “textuality” by musicians who are obviously as much over-achievers in the academic world as in the field of music. Singer/songwriter (and for the first time on an Okkervil River album – producer) Will Sheff told SPIN Magazine that going in a different direction for this album was, in fact, the idea. Rough edges stick unabashedly out on the opener “The Valley”, as an animated Sheff practically spits out pages of exposition as wailing tones swoop in threateningly overhead. A frenetic guitar solo midway through “Piratess” crashes the port-side deck and contributes a little bit of chaos.

While those songs are sort of defined by how they differ from past material, “Rider”, with its folk rock instrumentation and steady tempo, could conceivably have turned up on The Stand Ins. Still, there’s a level of passion and confidence in the dueling male vocals that sets it (and the stellar “White Shadow Waltz”) apart from the past. One dark theme that rears its head here and there on the record is the idea of a king amongst apes, or someone alone amidst detractors. The emotions on I Am Very Far are very much those of a traveler in a hostile land (“very far” from home, as it were), but Sheff’s narration does not give us someone who is afraid of his surroundings; he’s wily and angry enough to make it on his own, but he’s still got a long way to travel and it’s a lonely road with no travel companion to pass the time.

Download: “Rider”, “White Shadow Waltz”, “Mermaid”

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