Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Am Very Far - Okkervil River

I Am Very Far
Okkervil River
Jagjagwar  JAG185

I bought this at the Okkervil River concert at the Wiltern awhile ago.  It was the first time that I saw them live and I was blown away.  I like their albums but they only hint at the power they unleash live.  When Will Sheff walked out on stage he looked like an assistant professor at a liberal arts college, but when the music started he morphed into Otis Redding.  What a passionate performer, he totally rocks.  This is their best record to date, which is a good sign, they just keep getting better.  My picture does not really show how lovely the album package is.  The cover is embossed and the colors are really vibrant.  It is a two record set, but side four consists of a beautiful etching rather than music.  The music on the record is just as impressive as the packaging.  It features erudite and poetic lyrics harnessed to music with remarkable anthemic power to produce extraordinary songs of great depth and feeling.  It is a very dark album, full of blood and violence.  I count at least three songs that make reference to slit throats.  The album begins menacingly enough with "The Valley" where the driving, insistent beat of the music accompanies lyrics describing rock and roll casualties with horror film imagery.  The use of strings on this song enhances its creepiness.  "Piratess" has a more seductive, sexy vibe to it but the lyrics are just as dark with their depiction of a femme fatale.  "Rider" is my favorite song on the album, a soaring and vibrant song coupled with surreal, apocalyptic lyrics.  The music on here is really powerful, it practically sounds like an orchestra is playing.  It is the bleakest song addressed to an infant that I've heard since Richard Thompson's "The End of the Rainbow."  "Lay of the Last Survivor" offers no respite from the gloom as it opens with a girl discovering her father's dead body and continues on downward from there, full of fear, grief and surrender.  In contrast to the dark lyrics the music is exquisite even soothing in places full of warmth and rich instrumentation courtesy of the woodwinds.  "White Shadow Waltz" is one of the best songs on the record.  It sounds nothing like a waltz, the music has a driving beat with surging strings and keyboards and martial drumming that is again symphonic in its splendor and strength.  The song seems to be about some monstrous female creature, I'm not sure what it means, but the imagery is amazing.  The wall of sound returns for the pounding "We Need a Myth."  The grandiose music reinforces the urgency of the lyrics which search for something to believe in.  "Hanging From a Hit" is the opposite of its predessor.  It is a slow, delicate song driven by an unusual piano sound and a moving vocal depicting an illicit romance.  "Show Yourself" continues the stripped down sound of the previous song although with some interesting instrumental effects at the beginning.  It is a dreamy song that becomes more intense as it develops.  "Your Past Life as a Blast" is an exuberant love song, it is one of my favorite songs on the record, I like the way the lyrics build on each other and it provides some relief from the dark tone of the album.  The dramatic "Wake and Be Fine" returns to the recurrent theme of dream versus reality that permeates the album.  It is a very impressive song with another passionate almost distraught vocal from Sheff and some lovely instrumentation.  The concluding song "The Rise" is again orchestral in its instrumental richness.  It's wintry lyrics provide a fittingly gloomy yet majestic conclusion to the album.  Despite the darkness, I love this album.  I've been listening to it obsessively all summer long and it still impresses me every time I spin it.  It is the best album I've heard this year and I would not be at all surprised if it became a classic.  It places Okkervil River among the very best bands in America right now and I can't wait for them to make another album (or to come back to town for another show.)  Recommended for fans of My Morning Jacket, the Decemberists and the Arcade Fire, this record combines the best aspects of all three of them.  

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