'Away' opens in the most jarring of ways, in a quietly powerful sing-along track that seemingly puts the band in to its grave: "Okkervil River R.I.P". In the words of front man and driving creative force behind Okkervil River Will Sheff, this album was unplanned and not initially intended to belong to this band at all. The songs spawned quickly during a highly transitional period of his life, and were captured by Sheff in the growing realization that he was 'writing a death story for a part of my life' and putting personal and musical being back together piece by piece.
While still driven in large part by the soft, smooth musicality of Sheff's vocal, counterpointed only in relatively sparse and subtle support by a host of skilled musicians, 'Away' sees the emergence of a richer sound punctuated with orchestral flourishes. Vocal and instrumental support here is provided by a new group of musicians to the Okkervil River project including members of the classical group yMusic. Many of the songs were swiftly written and swiftly recorded and bear the marks of being so, not in their roughness but in their immediacy and raw emotional resonance.
The songs and subjects are as varied as they come: 'Comes Indiana Through the Smoke', written as an anthem for the battleship Sheff's recently deceased grandfather served on during World War II, is, like the imagery contained within, hauntingly beautiful. 'Judey On A Street' is a joyous staccato love song romp, equally bright and ominous, with the compelling feeling of movement; a song that viscerally runs through your system. Penultimate track 'Frontman in Heaven', another nod to the dark and compelling writing process and personal turmoil within, is 'Away' at highest volume, the most visceral and acerbic.
Continue reading: Okkervil River - Away Album Review
The term "Overnight sensations" certainly can't be applied to Okkervil River; I Am Very Far is Texans sixth album in a thirteen year career so far, and one which fans have had to wait patiently for whilst frontman Tim Sheff concluded side projects with Roky Erickson and Norah Jones.
Continue reading: Okkervil River, I Am Very Far Album Review
The Stage Names
Label - Jagjaguwar
Okkervil River have been building a name for themselves in the rootsy-Americana genre, through quiet, introspective, rustic records. They achieved something of a breakthrough with 2005's Black Sheep Boy, with its Great Lake Swimmers sound and somewhat whiney vocals. However, that success afforded the band the room to stretch a little, and The Stage Names is, ironically, more straightforward and rocking than the previous albums (that's if you regard Arcade Fire as straightforward and rocking). It takes a theme - a concept record about making a concept record - but unless you're the kind to listen deeply to an album in one sitting, that'll be less important than the fact that the band do make a great, and rather addictive noise. The band is a 7 piece, playing Will Sheff's songs (which may explain why they let him sing - this album would gain 2 marks just by using a more capable singer), in front of an 8-piece string section (occasionally). Despite that voice, or maybe because of it, Okkervil River burrow like a little worm into the part of your brain that makes you pull CDs off the shelf again and again.