Review of I Am Very Far Album by Okkervil River

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.

Okkervil River I Am Very Far Album

A snail-like rise to the fringes of success has had some benefits though, allowing the Austin natives to witness firsthand the gradual, almost tide-like rise to popularity of their strain of music, one which draws on sources as disparate as The Velvet Underground and The Carter Family, part of a diverse movement whose check shirted and painfully hirsute acolytes include: Bon Iver, Band of Horses and Midlake. And of course Arcade Fire.

Stuffing all those acts together is admittedly at best haphazard, but as different as they all sound, they share a link with Okkervil River's organic, countryfied (With a small "C") approach to making music. And having shown signs of life on their last album, 2008's The Stand In's, it seems that Sheff & co. have set a course firmly towards the mainstream.

Having already mentioned Arcade Fire once it seems a bit churlish to do so again, but devotees of Win Butler's mob will find much to love on I Am Very Far, particularly the celebratory, no-holds-barred valedictories The Valley and Rider. These however prove to be just the warm up for White Shadow Waltz, it's tension filled strings and skyscraping drum fills feeling like a stick of TNT, one that frustratingly however seems to never quite explode.

If those songs are designed to give the impression of a rolling stone gathering little moss, there are more subtle moments that underline the band's right to be taken as more erudite craftsmen. Hanging From A Hit shuffles with dusty romance like an old broken music box, Sheff using his David Byrne-esque, quavering tones to communicate a sense of old time fragility, whilst Piratess is as close to pop as the band have ever strayed, elegantly recalling Stars almost completely ignored little masterpiece In Our Bedroom After The War.

At times, it feels also like I Am Very Far is revealing itself somewhat as the passing of the seasons. Stripped completely of any pomp, closer The Rise is a weary sounding march towards the winter, with a sombre clarinet mirroring lyrics in which snow is falling onto hard ground, the listener forced to stumble with them towards a distant fireside.

It is more than intriguing trying to understand why the more disposable and transient life in the western hemisphere becomes, the more we seem determined to cling on to nineteenth and twentieth century cultures, if not their virtues. But if Robin Pecknold has his way and every iPod in the world is crushed in an act of Luddite belligerence, then there will be worse records to gather around our gramaphone player to afterwards than I Am Very Far.

Andy Peterson

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