Review : Okkervil River's I Am Very Far

I Am Very Far begins with intent as opener "The Valley" briefly attempts to lure us in with an acoustic guitar before the snare drum begins to take a beating that will not stop for the remaining three/four minutes of the song.
One track in and there is something more visceral about this Okkervil River than witnessed on their previous five studio albums.

Bass and keyboards take over from snare as Will Sheff's vocal slithers all over "Piratess"'s first line :

"Who wrotes those lines on the wall?
Let's retrace where they scrawled
Ancient characters."

Visceral has become cynicism (in vocal mostly rather than lyric) as it becomes quite clear that this is the darkest offering yet from the Texan band. In saying this "Rider" and "Lay Of the Last Survivor" return to more what we have heard from OR in the past (not a bad thing at all in my book) with acoustic guitar and strong direct vocal driving the band forward with an emotional build-up used as either a bridge to the chorus or an outro.

"White Shadow Waltz"'s constant throbbing piano steers the album more back to opening territory but with a larger sound enveloping Sheff's reverbed voice. "We Need A Myth" continues this with a string section providing the dramatic backdrop before the rumbling chords of an electric guitar take over.

The storyteller unambiguously raises his head as "Hanging From A Hit" slows the pace down a tad...

"A day she spends the night, and I can hear her sighing
as she's almost asleep on one side,
and I lie back on my pillow and ask what her husband is like."

...while "Show Yourself", though not exactly pacey itself, reintroduces a little bit of the angry dark that set the album rolling in the first place.

Each song on the album has its own qualities with each track slightly different to the rest be it in mood, tempo or orchestration but the magic of I Am Very Far seems to be that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The album is exactly that, an album, piecing itself together very well with the single "Wake And Be Fine" nicely placed near the end of the album to inject a bit urgency as the title suggests. I Am Very Far is different. You can tell it is Okkervil River but there definitely seems to have been an emphasis placed on recording "something different than before" making it difficult to compare to previous albums which is refreshing in itself. In parts a bit too much drama over enthusiasm and energy but the output is definitely positive. Like all Okkervil albums quite a few listens are required to uncover the gold so come December 2011 you could well see this at the top of the pile. For now it occupies the "lingering-around-the-top-20" category.

Stream I Am Very Far here.

1. The Valley
2. Piratess
3. Rider
4. Lay Of the Last Survivor
5. White Shadow Waltz
6. We Need A Myth
7. Hanging From A Hit
8. Show Yourself
9. Your Past Life As A Blast
10. Wake And Be Fine
11. The Rise