Okkervil River’s music has always been on the darker side of the indie rock spectrum and their sixth album I Am Very Far is their least accessible to date. Recorded in short bursts and then produced, mixed and tweaked obsessively by frontman Will Sheff, the result is bigger sound that comes at the expense of the catchy hooks that made the band indie favourites.
That said, the album features some of Will Sheff’s best songwriting and although this is not a concept album like the past four releases from the band, he still paints intriguing pictures of desperate characters.
Album opener The Valley is the biggest sounding song they’ve released, with layered drums and keys creating the perfect backdrop to the ‘rock & roll dead’ he has spent over the last decade singing about.Wake and be Fine is the closest the album comes to their previous effort The Stand-Ins and contains just the right amount of swagger but pales in comparison to the wall of sound contained on the previous tracks.
Rider is the catchiest song on the album and has a stadium like quality and is a brief glimpse of optimism in an otherwise dense release. The desperate staccato of White Summer Waltz on the other hand, echos the Arcade Fire yet it’s intensity is lost when heard within the album.
The gentle waltz of Hanging From a Hit provides a welcome relief from the album’s big production and allows greater focus on the lyrics. The added touch of a trumpet solo among the tinkling keys shows the band are most effective when they’re not hiding behind theatrics. Your Past Life Was A Blast is the poppiest track on the record and is one of the few times it doesn’t sound like Will Sheff is in the middle of a mental breakdown.
Overall, I Am Very Far is a draining listen. While Okkervil River were never a carefree band, the album is almost drowned in its own heaviness. The lyrics are fantastic as always and many of the songs are sure to please fans, but there’s a certain spark that seems to be missing from the record. Here’s hoping it comes back on the next release.