Friday, May 20, 2011

Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

Rating: B

I Am Very Far is the sixth and latest offering from Okkervil River, an Austin-based sextet that has carved out something of a niche partway between the pagan folk of Fleet Foxes and the earnest, literate punk of Neutral Milk Hotel.  So it's a bit surprising that I Am Very Far is most notable for its grooves.

It hits you right off the bat with "Valley" and its relentless snaredrum pounding through the track over frontman Will Sheff's typical nearly-off-the-rails vocals.  "Piratess" is danceable, backed by a bass groove and keyboard lines.  "White Shadow Waltz" is anchored by repeated piano chords.  And it's not just the music that indulges in hypnotic repetition - "Valley," "We Need a Myth," and "Show Yourself" conclude in almost chanting.  Most of the time, this works, but some of the faux-African percussion in "Your Past Life As a Blast" almost sounds like a CD skipping, and "The Rise" has similar arrhythmic percussive touches that distract.  Still, the grooviness is an interesting twist on Okkervil River's music and something to watch going forward.

What gets crowded out are some of the ballads that marked some of their stronger tracks in the past - "Yellow," "Maine Island Lovers," "A Stone," "A Girl In Port" - there's nothing like that here.  Even "Lay of the Last Survivor," "We Need a Myth," and "Hanging From a Hit," which start soft, build to a dense, loud climaxes.  There's nothing wrong with that, and few bands use dynamics better than Okkervil River (witness the cacophonic endings on "Show Yourself" and album closer "The Rise"), but I miss the intimacy of some of the gentler tunes in the band's catalogue.

The final result is that I Am Very Far is a very listenable album, solid throughout with some fine moments, but it doesn't match the transcendent heights of some of Okkervil River's earlier work.  If you're already an Okkervil River fan, pick up this album; if you're just getting into them, there are better places to start.

Okkervil River official site

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