Okkervil River’s last two albums The Stage Names (2007) and The Stand-Ins (2008) had the odd orchestral flourish, trumpet part and epic moment but at their core they were two albums of guitar based indie rock. With I Am Very Far they have adopted a far more ambitious sound. There’s still an alternative rock band there but on this evidence mainstream success surely is not far away.
As with the Texas band’s previous two albums it too features a range of instruments, but with the band’s frontman Will Sheff and fellow Texan John Congleton on production duties they’ve brought out a cinematic quality to the band’s music.
Another feature is that not one of the 11 tracks is skippable. While the Stage Names and The Stand Ins were good albums, their real strength lay in the pop savvy quality of a few tracks such as ‘Lost Coastlines’ and ‘Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe’. I Am Very Far is an old fashioned album, that demands to be listened to from start to finish rather than to be dipped into for some select songs.
Opener ‘The Valley’ is as good an opening track to an album as you will hear with its pounding drums and a string arrangement that is part ‘Bellbottoms’ by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, part Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Among other highlights are ‘We Need a Myth’, which has one of the best melodies of the album and the Wilco-esque ‘Lay of the Last Survivor’.
Another is ‘Hanging from a Hit’ with its ragtime pub piano that harks back to classic British late 60s music from the likes of The Hollies or The Kinks. The influence of this era is perhaps unsurprising given Okkervil River were the backing band on 1960’s psychedelia legend Roky Erickon’s 2010 album True Love Cast Out All Evil.
I am Very Far could just be their best album to date and has the potential to take them from alternative indie rock status to mainstream rock without losing credibility.
It also owes a lot in influence to former band member Jonathan Meiburg and his band Shearwater, which started as a folkish side project that included Sheff but like Okkervil River has learnt over time that big can be better.
by Joe Lepper