Tag Archive | "Okkervil River"

Top 10 Albums of 2018 ….so far

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Top 10 Albums of 2018 ….so far

Posted on 20 June 2018 by Joe

Each June we take a moment to look back on our favourite albums of the year so far. Inventive pop is a key theme his time around, with bands keen to push their boundaries and take their sound into new directions. It’s certainly paid off in the case of many of our Top 10 Albums of 2018 …. so far. We will revisit this list once again in December, when we will reveal our favourite albums of the year.

 

10. Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

For his third album Liverpudlian Alex Highton has turned up the synths and 1980/90s influences to great effect. This is particular notable on opener Benny Is a Heartbreaker, an Ultravox-esque thriller of a song.

Alex Highton

Read our full review here.

 

9. Guided by Voices – Space Gun

Space Gun may well be the best album Pollard has recorded under the Guided By Voices moniker since he resurrected the band back in 2012.

Space Gun

Read our full review here.

 

8. Superorganism – Superorganism

This global octet, with members from the UK, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, have impressed us greatly with their stunning debut, which is packed with a range of styles, big choruses and delicious hooks.

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7. Okkervil River – In the Rainbow Rain

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best, featuring great tunes in the likes of Love Somebody and Pulled Up The Ribbon as well as some of the strongest personal writing yet from their leader Will Sheff.

OkkervilRainbow

Read our full review here.

 

6. Tigercats – Pig City

Tigercats are back, bigger, brassier and they’ve brought the party with them, careering round the capital on this gem of a third album, which makes great use of their new horn section and African influences.

Tigercats

Read our full review here.

 

5. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake

Parquet Courts had already done their bit for guitar rock on their first three albums. Now they expertly take their music into new directions, thanks to Danger Mouse on production duties. The results are pure joy.

parquet courts

 

4. Neko Case – Hell On

The world’s best female vocalist? We certainly think so, especially after hearing this latest highly charged release. She certainly has a lot to be emotional about this time around with this album arriving after her house burnt down and amid a battle with stalkers. Yet another career highpoint and a worthy entry into our top 10 albums of 2018 list.

Neko Case - Hell-On

 

3. The Go! Team – Semicircle

Eu-bleedin’-phoric! There’s no other word combo to sum up the sheer exhilarating joy of this new The Go! Team album.

The Go Team SEMICIRCLE album artwork SMALL

Read our full review here.

 

2. Field Music – Open Here

From its chamber pop gems to pop-tastic foot stompers, this latest from Britain’s most interesting act continues to delight.  There are serious messages too, as the band eloquently express their fears around parenthood in post-Brexit Britain. A deserved high placing in our top 10 albums of 2018 list.

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Read our full review here.

 

1. Jack Hayter – Abbey Rood

A derelict children’s home provides the inspiration for former Hefner man Jack Hayter’s latest, where everything falls into place. It has a strong back story, some moments of genuine drama, great music and above all sincerity. This is not only one of the best folk albums of the year, but currently our favourite album of 2018.

abbey wood

Read our full review here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain

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Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain

Posted on 24 May 2018 by Joe

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best.

This ninth album from group features some of the strongest personal song writing from leader Will Sheff, something which made other career high points like The Stage Names (2008) so effective.

The band’s 1980s influences, as used so well on The Silver Gymnasium (2013), are also deployed perfectly here once again.

And it feels like a band, rather than just Sheff and some others. That’s because he used the same close knit group that were with him two years ago on tour to promote their Away album.

“It was my favorite touring experience in many years… I felt like a kid again. I realized how phenomenally lucky I am that I’ve been able to play music for this long,” says Sheff.

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The results are uplifting and even spiritual in places, which is perhaps no surprise as Sheff’s recent visits to Quaker meetings are clearly a huge influence on his life currently.

Opener Famous Tracheotomies is superb. Here Sheff recalls the time of his own windpipe incision as well recounting the variety of celebrities to have also had this procedure.

It’s a track Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle would have been proud of. There’s something so bizarrely life affirming about hearing about the medical records of the likes of Ray Davies, Gary Coleman and Motown star Mary Wells put to a laid back 80s pop funk soundtrack.

There’s some great melodies here too. The Dream the Light is superb enough with its gospel choir and cheesy synths, but is elevated further by its strong chorus.

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I had to check that Love Somebody wasn’t a cover of an 80s chart ballad. It sounds so familiar, like I’ve been listening to this on radio for years. Turns out that its definitely Okkervil River, written by Sheff, bassist Benjamin Lazaar Davis and guitarist Will Graefe.

It’s not all 80s FM pop though.

Don’t Move Back to LA with its acoustic guitar picking is a timeless addition to the Okkervil River collection. Just beautiful.

The list of fine tracks goes on across an album of all killer, no filler and one I’d recommend to any Okkervil newbie as a great place to start. That’s not something you can often say about an act that has been around for 20 years.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

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Sixteen of the Best Songs of 2016

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Sixteen of the Best Songs of 2016

Posted on 29 December 2016 by Dorian

We recently published our Top 20 Albums of 2016, but this only reflected a section of the amazing songs that came out this year.  There were great albums we missed, albums that just missed out and songs that came out on single this year. So, as a bit of an end of year bonus, here are the best songs of 2016 that didn’t feature in our end of year album list.

16. ESP Ohio – Royal Cyclopean

It wouldn’t be Neon Filler without a Robert Pollard track, and this horn driven gem from his latest collaboration with Doug Gillard is one of his best this year.

15. The Wedding Present – Rachel

There are rumours that this year’s Wedding Present album may be there last, if that is the case then they are finishing on something of a high.

14. Childish Bambino – Me and Your Mama

Donald Glover is a successful comic actor, the face of the young Lando Calrissian and a Grammy award-winning singer, sickeningly talented.

13. The Shins – Dead Alive

The Shins releasing a song that sounds like they could have recorded 15 years ago may not seem that exciting, unless you think early Shins is about as good as music gets. Which I do.

12. Allo Darlin’ – Hymn on the 45

Allo Darlin’ sadly called in at day in 2016, but just as they played their final shows they released one last single. A final document, if nothing else, of why they’ll be missed.

11. Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

Car Seat Headrest is the work of Will Toledo, this year’s bespectacled indie geek de jour. The album justifies the hype this time around.

10. The Avalanches – Subways

The new Avalanches album may not be much of a step forward given the huge gap between this and their debut recording, but there were enough good songs to make it worth a listen.

9. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

The New York band have been releasing consistently great music since they broke through with Light Up Gold in 2012. The title track from their latest album shows them in almost subdued mode.

8. Angel Olsen – Shut Up and Kiss Me

2016 was a bit of a breakthrough year for Angel Olsen, her 4th LP getting a lot of attention and radio play. This track showcases as much fuzz-pop as folk and is a bit of a break from the softer country vibe she’s associated with.

7. Case/Lang/Veirs – Best Kept Secret

Three of the best vocalists in country-pop come together and, unsurprisingly, the results are great.

6. Okkervil River – Judy on the Street

Every two or three years Will Sheff’s band release an album and they all range from good to excellent. This track from Away is no exception to the rule.

5. Teenage Fanclub – Thin Air

More than a quarter if a century in and Teenage Fanclub can still produce some of the best melodic guitar pop around.

4. Girl Ray – Trouble

One of the best bands that we saw at Indietracks this year and one of the bands to watch out for in 2017.

3. Field Music – Disappointed

Due to its release at a busy time we sadly didn’t get round to reviewing Field Music’s excellent 2016 album Commontime. We still loved it though and can assure you it was a typically excellent release from the Brewis brothers. This was a single and one of the best tracks.

2. Luke Haines – Smash The System

Smash The System saw Haines revisit some of his previous themes, with a number of nods to his Baader Meinhof album. The Monkees references in this song are confusing but welcome.

1. Eyelids – Slow It Goes

Eyelids didn’t have a new album out in 2016, that is coming next year, but they did release this song and showcased what we can look forward to. Excellent video as well.

Compiled by Dorian Rogers

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Shearwater- Jet Plane and Oxbow

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Shearwater- Jet Plane and Oxbow

Posted on 15 January 2016 by Joe

Maybe its middle age, perhaps a sudden hankering for nostalgia, but it’s clear the urge to revisit the 1980s is strong for Okkervil River’s Will Sheff and their former keyboardist Jonathan Meiburg, who now leads environmentalist prog rockers Shearwater.

While the focus of Okkervil River’s 1980s drenched 2013 album Silver Gymnasium was more Breakfast Club with its nostalgic, adolescent themes, Meiburg’s political and conservationist zeal sees him look to more serious inspiration, most notably Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and Scary Monsters, by the sadly departed David Bowie.

shearwater

Over the last decade or so Meiburg’s Shearwater has favoured drama through its songs, often about the tragedies and joy of nature, as was heard on their 2010 album The Golden Archipelago, about the conservation threat posed to the world’s fragile islands.

When they signed to Sub Pop in 2012 and released Animal Joy the same sense of political and environmental drama continued, but this had a more radio friendly sound.

This album is a natural progression on both Animal Joy and The Golden Archipelago. It’s beautifully produced and wonderfully dramatic, thanks to the addition of film composer and percussionist Brian Reitzell, whose cinema credits include Lost in Translation.

It’s also accessible, full of 1980s electronica and synths, which provides a great juxtaposition to Meiburg’s more traditional baritone and the band’s timeless subject matter, about humans’ relationship with the natural world.

There’s also an unease for Meiburg in being an American on this album. Unsurprising really for this environmentalist to be part of a country that is one of the world’s biggest polluters.

This discomfort is best shown on the album’s lead track Quiet Americans, which acts as both an implicit apology for his country’s treatment of the planet and an call to arms to make amends.

But while there’s more electronica on this album than on previous releases the band can still be safely categorised broadly as guitar pop/rock, with the riffs of Back Channels proving another highpoint. Pale Kings too is joyous guitar pop and Only Child sounds like one of Richard Thompson heavily produced 1980s albums.

Is there any filler? Filaments is almost there due to its lack of melody compared to tracks like Quiet Americans. However, its driving bass and vintage synths turn this mundane song into another highlight.

While lacking the melodies that made Rook one of 2008’s best albums, this album as a whole is sonically perhaps their best yet. Given that this is the most cinematic of their releases it is strange that they have yet to create a film soundtrack – which surely must be the next stage in Shearwater’s evolution.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Shearwater The Haunt, Brighton (May 3, 2014)

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Shearwater The Haunt, Brighton (May 3, 2014)

Posted on 06 May 2014 by Joe

The first  Saturday of the annual Brighton Festival is one of the busiest nights on this south coast city’s social calender, with a raft of competing events taking place. It would therefore have been understandable if this latest gig on a brief Spring tour by Shearwater, the Sub Pop signed band formed by former Okkervil River man Jonathan Meiburg, was half empty.

But such is the growing reputation of the band as a live act they need not have worried ,as the Haunt was almost full and with a good, attentive crowd too, who were full of appreciative whoops and cries throughout.

Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg

Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg

The band clearly picked up on this enthusiasm and gave them what they wanted, quite literally when it came to the encore as they played Snow Leopard, one of the stand out tracks on their second album Rook,  in response to a shouted request.

As Shearwater gig goers have come to expect there was plenty of environmental based banter from Meiburg, including his recollection of a dream featuring an orang-utan, the time vultures circled over their recording studio as well as tales of his childhood in Baltimore.

With their last album Travelers, a collection of cover versions, coming out last year this Spring tour was not album specific so there was plenty of chance to mine their back catalogue, including another crowd favourite  the title track of Rook.

Travelers tracks still got a good airing, including their rock anthem take on Xiu Xiu’s  I Live The Valley OH and  David Thomas Broughton’s Ambiguity. As is in keeping with Meiburg’s passion for wildlife and conservation issues this tour also includes recordings of birds and waves from the Falkland Islands, a favourite Meiburg destination, as well as  the sounds of sparrows and road builders from North Korea to bring their songs further to life. It’s not every gig you review you get to say that, but then Shearwater is not your average band.

Words by Martin Burns, pictures by Dorian Rogers.

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Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium

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Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium

Posted on 09 September 2013 by Joe

Too often accessibility is seen by reviewers as something to criticise. How dare this act (insert name of any once lo-fi act now releasing well produced music here) attempt to appeal to  a wide range of people? So often though such criticism is misjudged. It is certainly misjudged when people refer to The Mountain Goats post Panasonic boombox cassette recordings and it is equally odd when referring to Okkervil River’s latest album, the highly accessible The Silver Gymnasium.

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The band’s first on ATO Records this latest release is the most autobiographical yet of singer/songwriter Will Sheff’s tenure as Okkervil River frontman as he takes the listener into a brief period of his childhood in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden, where his parents worked in 1986 as teachers at a local boarding school.

Conceived as “a tribute to the spirit of pre-adolescence” the arrangements, with synths nestled beside guitars, is full of references to 1980s music thanks to some smart production from John Agnello, who has worked with artists from that era such as Cyndi Lauper and John Mellencamp as well as latterly with the far cooler Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr.

As a result it is easier on the ear than the more rock focused I Am Very Far and musically is littered with catchy hooks and pop references. It’s highly appealing but not, as Pitchfork suggests in its review of the album, a shameless attempt to sell more records at the expense of artistic credibility. The accessibility of this album’s sound and music may well end up making Sheff and co richer but artistically it is far from unnecessary; it is crucial to the album’s attempt to conjure up the emotions of an innocent, young boy in mid 80s small town America.

For me this is lyrically and musically Sheff’s best work since 2008’s Stage Names and while at the time I loved 2011’s I Am Very Far, its barely registered on my CD player in the years that have passed. Silver Gymnasium is a different beast and one I’m certain to come back to as the years go by, as I do with Stage Names.

The pacing of the album is also key. Starting with It Was My Season, with its piano melody with echoes of Boom Town Rats and then followed with the 1980s MTV friendly guitar riffs, trumpets and singalong chorus  of  On A Balcony.

Synths come to the fore on Down Down The Deep River, as Casey Kasem’s Top 40 continues to echo in Sheff’s ears before this upbeat opening segment to the album takes a breather on the melancholy Pink Slips and Lido Pier Suicide Car. As the album moves across the rest of its 11 tracks the 1980s synth and guitar references continue and work particularly well on Stay Young before the Cure-esque Black Nemo closes this collection.

What is perhaps most striking about Silver Gymnasium is that it pays respect to a particular era without copying it outright. Few can copy the 1980’s production outright and succeed, with Destroyer’s Kapputt and Field Music off shoot The Week That Was notable exceptions. Instead Okkervil River  have created something that pays homage to an era, will satisfy the band’s fans, particularly those of Sheff’s generation, as well as attract new admirers. Is such a universal appeal really such a bad thing?

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Shearwater – The Fleece, Bristol (Nov 25, 2012)

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Shearwater – The Fleece, Bristol (Nov 25, 2012)

Posted on 26 November 2012 by Joe

There are bands that tour relentlessly only to implode amidst bitter in-fighting. Then there’s Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg, who in the middle of a world tour takes a month out to holiday in an Albatross colony on the Falkland Islands.

Such a break clearly helps avoid complacency.  As Meiburg and his band come towards the end of a 200 night plus world tour they are far from jaded. They clearly still love playing and are so delighted with the respectable crowd that’s turned out they play a mammoth half an hour encore on top of the intense hour long main set.

Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg

Tracks from their latest album, and first on Sub Pop, Animal Joy took up the bulk of the gig, showing that in both recorded and live form this Texas outfit – that started as an off shoot of Okkervil River –  are among the best indie rock bands around.

Dramatic compositions, powerful lyrics, precision drumming, with the bass and Meiburg’s vocals taking the melody above a wall of noise from guitars and keyboards  provides an enormous sound  at times that could easily fill far larger venues.

Among the highlights from the Animal Joy tracks were the album’s centrepiece Insolence. On this track the tour’s drummer Danny Reisch, a temporary replacement for their usual stick man Thor, proves a real highlight with his military precision on the snare giving the song an even greater sense of drama than on the album.

Another highpoint was Pushing the River in which once again Reisch’s drumming shines, with more than a few nods to Joy Division and New Order’s drummer Steven Morris

After a banter-free first few songs the band really embraced the audience, with Meiberg’s stories of the Falklands and the origins of his songs pouring out.

We discover that the British South Atlantic colony is “like an elaborate reconstruction of here by a theatrical society” and how he found a sperm whale’s giant tooth on the beach. He then donated it to a Falkland’s museum, more due to not getting it through US customs than altruism. This was a nice segue into one of the handful of tracks such as Black Eyes from their 2010 album the Golden Archipelago about the plight and wonder of the world’s islands.

Shearwater

The extended encore gave Meiburg a chance to play solo, just electric guitar and his voice on a couple of tracks with Animal Joy’s Dread Sovereign a highlight of this segment. He was later joined by the band again to belt out some older tracks including Rook, from the band’s 2008 album of the same name.

As with Meiburg’s former band Okkervil River, who played for nearly two hours at Bristol’s Trinity Arts Centre last year, Shearwater know how to give a crowd value for money and a superb, passionate performance. Playing like that for 200 nights, and with a trip to the windswept Falkland Islands in between makes Meiburg one of the most intriguing characters in music and Shearwater one of the most exciting, hard working bands around.

Will Samson (l) and Ollie (r)

Support on the UK leg of their tour comes from Will Samson, joined tonight by keyboardist “Ollie”. Samson was as engaging as Meiburg during his short set regarding the banter but suffered from vocally sounding almost identical to For Emma, For Ever Ago era Bon Iver. Samson even strains his voice in the same way, but sadly did not have the same quality of songs such as Skinny Love to justify such a copycat performance. He even remarked how much discomfort such straining causes; perhaps a sign from his body that he should find his true voice sooner rather than later. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has been there, done that and already moved on and perhaps it’s time for Samson to do the same.

By Joe Lepper

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Okkervil River @ Trinity Centre, Bristol, Nov 21

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Okkervil River @ Trinity Centre, Bristol, Nov 21

Posted on 22 November 2011 by Joe

It’s been three years since I last saw Okkervil River perform. Since that impressive set at Explosions in the Sky’s ATP Festival in Minehead in 2008 the band have gone on to produce two critically acclaimed albums, The Stand Ins and this year’s I Am Very Far as well as a collaboration with 60s icon Roky Erickson.

Back in the west country, this time as headliners,  they have opted for the impressive Trinity Centre in Bristol, a converted old church wedged into the part of the city centre where giant roundabouts rule supreme.

Okkervil River's Will Sheff

What was most striking about their ATP performance was the intensity of the performance, in particular singer and chief songwriter Will Sheff’s showmanship. They’ve lost none of that as the years have passed. If anything they are even more intense with the fiery rock of I Am Very Far dominating a set that also included a large chunk of The Stand Ins and 2007’s The Stage Names, for many their best album.

Sheff these days looks like a kind of American Jarvis Cocker in maths teacher suit jacket and glasses barely staying on his face, deep in concentration during the slower songs, manic during the fiery ones.

Among the highlights was the quick change from Piratess, one of the slower ones from I Am Very Far, into the upbeat Pop Lie, one of the stand out tracks from Stand Ins and one of the best critiques of the music industry going.

Banter was minimal at the beginning with the band barely coming up for air until the end of Pop Lie about five songs in, but they warmed up as the set went on. Their search for food among the roundabouts of Bristol was one focus, as was a troublesome jack plug that briefly interrupted the start of The Valley. But by the end you couldn’t shut them up, although the topic became rather myopic  – their evangelical mission for everyone to raise their hands and clap along Wembley style.

A Classic Education

Including the encore they put in a grueling hour and three quarters set, with only a brief solo acoustic interlude by Sheff offering a break for the rest of the band. It looked exhausting and this feat was not lost on the three quarters full venue, who were particular excited during an encore that included Girl in a Port, Unless It Kicks and Sheff’s many requests for us to raise our arms aloft and clap.

The support for their current UK tour was A Classic Education from Bologna, Italy , and fronted by Canadian Jonathan Clancy. They turned out to be a real hidden gem, straddling a world of indie rock somewhere between The Shins and Echo and the Bunnymen, as they showcased tracks from their album Call It Blazing such as Spin Me Around.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

 

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Top Ten Albums of 2011….so far

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Top Ten Albums of 2011….so far

Posted on 08 June 2011 by Joe

Welcome to our round up of 2011’s album releases so far. Our early thoughts are that compared to the same time last year 2011 hasn’t been as great. True, there’s been some fine albums, but far less competition to get into our top ten and only one runaway contender for the top slot.

The list below  picked itself fairly easily but whereas in June last year we pretty much already our Top 20 Albums of 2010 list in place. There were a handful that did narrowly miss out though, and are more than likely to feature in our end of year Top 20. These include Johann Johannsson’s classical masterpiece Miners’ Hymns and newcomer Alice Gun’s Blood and Bone.

Another feature of this year’s list is the dominance of American acts with a folk, country leaning, with just three UK acts making our list and one Canadian.

Sit back, get your early Christmas lists ready and enjoy Neonfiller’s Top Ten Albums of 2011 ….so far.

10.Singing Adams – Everybody Friends Now

Featuring former Broken Family Band singer songwriter Steven Adams this UK act hark back to a golden era of indie music from the likes of Teenage Fanclub and The Wedding Present. Underpinning this debut are some damn fine tunes. The future of UK indie music is in safe hands. (Read our full review here)

9. The Leisure Society – Into the Murky Water

A beautiful, inventive and thoroughly English pop record that more than matches this former Willkommen Collective act’s stunning debut The Sleeper. (Read our full review here)

8.Bill Callahan Apocalypse

With its stripped back feel, punctuated with squealing electric guitars and flutes, Apocalypse can be an unsettling listen at times, but not for too long as Callahan’s luxuriously deep voice has a calming influence and can easily draw you back to normality.  (Read full review here)

7.Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Timeless harmonies and lush pastoral folk arrangements are the hallmarks of Fleet Foxes and this their second album sticks close to the formula. It’s beautiful stuff at times, with real care taken over production values. (Read full review here)

6. The Decemberists – The King is Dead

A  change of pace and style for Colin Meloy’s band on an  album that is most influenced by the radio safe country pop of REM.  (Read our full review here)

5. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

John Darnielle’s song writing and survival instincts grow stronger with each release.  With three different producers there’s a surprising consistency as The Mountain Goats expose their hidden demons and offer some bittersweet tales of the famous along the way, from Charles Bronson to Judy Garland.  Uplifting stuff.  (Read our full release here)

4. David Lowery – The Palace Guards

The Palace Guards is the first solo album from Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven front-man David Lowery. It’s taken a while but  its worth the wait as this is among his best work. (Read the full review here)

3. Okkervil River- I am Very Far

The Texas act are back with an ambituous, cinematic indie rock album.  Among our highlights are opener ‘The Valley’, with pounding drums and a string arrangement that is part ‘Bellbottoms’ by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, part Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. (Read our full review here)

2. Destroyer – Kaputt

Although this was the only one of our Top 10 that made NME’s lacklustre Top 50 albums of 2011 so far list, don’t let that put you off. Dan Bejar has never sounded better, harking back to an early 80s sound, it is part Prefab Sprout, part New Order as Bejar takes the role of world weary rockstar reminiscing in style. (Read our full review here)

1. Darren Hayman – January Songs

Our runaway top placed album goes to former Hefner frontman Darren Hayman and his successful attempt to write, record and release a song a day in Janaury. Not only did he come up with 31 excellent and diverse songs,  featuring a range of artists such as Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris and Spanish band Litorol, but he also created a multi-media experience that gave his audience a unique insight into the song writing process. Each day to compliment the song, he also released a video, video diary and artwork. People were invited to submit ideas and help with lyrics and our co-editor’s runaway dog Arthur even inspired a song. January Songs is a  superb effort that is going to take some beating if it is to be toppled from first place by December. (Read our full review, including a link to buy this download only album, here)

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

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Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

Posted on 03 May 2011 by Joe

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.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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