CD Review: Okkervil River “I Am Very Far”

I Am Very Far, Okkervil River’s sixth album, is not what one would expect from them; a band renowned for their concept albums and lo-fi recordings. Instead, they present us a collection of well-produced, meticulously arranged songs that are less part of a bigger concept as they are individual works of art.

Although certain leitmotifs like imagery attached to throats, sea-land metaphors and, surprisingly, sleigh bells reappear throughout the album, the songs are very varied in style and dynamic. Even if the lack of concept is surprising, it does not take away from the album, other than a few instances where the transitions between songs seem a little jagged.

One thing that doesn’t change with this album is Will Sheff’s eloquent pessimism. “The Valley,” filled with “ten, ten again and another ten million rock and roll dead” and “We Need a Myth”, a self-explanatory statement about belief and illusory perceptions of life, are particularly good examples of this. His storytelling-style lyrics are also filled with witty insight and vivid imagery, particularly striking in the song “Hanging From a Hit.”

It also seems as though more chances were taken with certain aspects of lyrical content; inventing words (piratess), extensive use of alliteration (blank, bare, broke-open sky) and even an attempt at LCD-style lyrics (shake it, shake it, shake it all). Some of these risks don’t benefit the songs, but great art cannot be safe art and this becomes obvious in all the decisions that do pan out, especially the musical ones; the deconstructed chorus in “White Shadow Waltz,” the unconventional vocal melody in “Your Past Life as a Blast” and the beautiful arrangements of “The Rise,” to mention a few.

Finding a band that is willing to try something new -and make it good- is a rare occurrence in today’s music business, but Okkervil River accomplishes this expertly. With “I Am Very Far” you can expect enough classic Okkervil River to stay true to what the band has come to represent and enough innovation to make it some of the most interesting songwriting happening presently. One shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to listen to this album.