Plumbiferous Media

I Am Very Far - Okkervil River

May 22nd 2011
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I Am Very Far - Okkervil RiverOkkervil River
I Am Very Far
Score: 93

Three years after the excel­lent The Stand Ins, Okkervil Riv­er, found­ed in Austin in 1998, has released I Am Very Far. Over the years, Okkervil Riv­er has proven itself quite capa­ble of mak­ing excel­lent music - but most of their albums have had sig­nif­i­cant low points. The Stand Ins was the first step towards more uni­form excel­lence - and I Am Very Far is an even big­ger step. The group’s newest album is a col­or­ful, care­ful­ly con­struct­ed jour­ney through the musi­cal expe­ri­ences Okkervil Riv­er has often hint­ed at and occa­sion­al­ly delved into. I Am Very Far is almost cer­tain­ly Okkervil River’s best album, and it’s no less of a suc­cess con­sid­ered alone.

On I Am Very Far, Okkervil Riv­er tends towards steady, sol­id base­lines that give front­man Will Sheff a strong foun­da­tion for his voice. That’s cer­tain­ly not to say that Okkervil River’s instru­men­tals don’t have mer­it by them­selves - quite the oppo­site. They may focus on cre­at­ing a strong back­bone, but they’re also thor­ough­ly nuanced, in ways that make them both rich­ly dynam­ic and a plea­sure to lis­ten to. The album seam­less­ly moves between the intri­cate but pow­er­ful strum­ming of “Rid­er” and the ele­gant, con­stant­ly swelling sound of “Lay of the Last Sur­vivor.” This is not an album that finds a pat­tern and sticks to it. Rather, it’s an album that uses what works best at any giv­en moment, and that’s cer­tain­ly part of what makes it so grip­ping throughout.

Sheff is an excel­lent vocal­ist, and he’s giv­en - and takes - every oppor­tu­ni­ty to demon­strate it on I Am Very Far. It’s hard to imag­ine a voice that would be bet­ter suit­ed to tell the alter­nate­ly soar­ing and blood-soaked sto­ries of the album, and Shef­f’s vocals are cer­tain­ly well-accom­pa­nied, nei­ther over­bear­ing nor drowned in bass. It does­n’t mat­ter if it’s the inten­si­ty of “Rid­er“ ‘s loud­est parts or the care­ful hum Shef­f’s voice cre­ates on “Show Your­self.” It sim­ply works, and it’s a plea­sure to lis­ten to.

Okkervil Riv­er is, as a gen­er­al rule, a reli­able source of engag­ing writ­ing. It’s not sur­pris­ing, then, that I Am Very Far is so well writ­ten. It’s some­times intense­ly vis­cer­al, as the open­ing lines demon­strate: “We watch the sun switch­ing in the sky, off and on / Where our friend stands bleed­ing on the late sum­mer laws / A slicked back bloody black gun­shot to the head / He has fall­en in the val­ley of the rock and roll dead.” Oth­er times, it’s qui­eter but no less grip­ping. It’s clear that as much atten­tion has been paid to the sound of the words as to their con­tent, as Sheff uses the tonal qual­i­ty of his words to cre­ate lines like “Wan White Shad­ow Waltz stirs, sput­ters and stalls / Then wakes, wavers and walks right through her prison walls,” cre­at­ing an abstract and yet odd­ly clear image that simul­ta­ne­ous­ly sounds fantastic.

I Am Very Far is, quite sim­ply, an excel­lent album. Okkervil Riv­er has man­aged to take all of its strengths - Will Shef­f’s voice, inspired writ­ing, and rich instru­men­tals - and dis­till them into an work that brings each of those parts into clear focus. I Am Very Far is a suc­cess not only for Okkervil Riv­er but for the genre as a whole. It’s an emo­tion­al­ly charged, thor­ough­ly imag­i­na­tive explo­ration of what works, and more impor­tant­ly what is enjoy­able. It’s an album that deserves to be cel­e­brat­ed - and one for which Okkervil Riv­er deserves praise.

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