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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Okkervil River: I Am Very Far (Release Date: 5-10-2011)

        Simply put, Okkervil River is one of those bands with a very specific, pin-pointable sound. Alternating between down-tempo, folk-rocky ballads, and their faster-paced, shout-inducing counterparts, OR would appear to be a band with a limited, albeit perfected, number of tricks up their sleeve. Their newest disc, I Am Very Far, strikes me as nearly irrefutable evidence of this fact, opening with it's most distinguishable track (The simple, steady, thumping The Valley), and proceeds to become more and more familiar from there. Even tracks that appear to be trying something new for these guys, such as the vaguely disco-leaning Piratess, feel exceedingly, "Been there, done that."

        What makes this disc more gratingly familiar than the rest of their catalogue? Well, for one, frontman Will Sheff's voice only has as much range as the music that surrounds it, opting between slow, moaning misery and megaphone desperate yearning. His lyrics, while clever as always, have begun to strike me as being negative for negativity's sake, exemplified by mid-album number We Need a Myth, in which he once again feels the need to observe that folks need to lie to themselves to remain happy ("We need a myth/Guess what we're after is just this," "In a myth/I'll hear the voice of a friend," yada, yada, yada...). Not so much offensive, listing to the words Sheff sings has begun to feel like listening to that friend of yours who can find misery in absolutely everything, and needs you to talk him or her up daily.

        By my count, the production here is likely the biggest culprit. Never before has the band sounded so crisp, filled-out, and exacting, but these are all words that go against their strongest suits. Their up-tempo jams are too polite to feel truly exciting, Rider coming off as a slight and predictable version of the rapid-fire rock out of earlier albums, like Black Sheep Boy's Black. On the flip side, the more mournful, time-taking tracks are stripped of their earnestness and immediacy by the focus on production value. Perhaps, in some ways, Hanging From a Hit is technically a superior song to Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You Know's Red, but the later song simply feels much more honest and direct. Lastly, I Am Very Far proves something that I've always been extremely curious about; Yes, an album can in fact be too long, because listening to IAVF in One sitting has been nearly impossible for me, not because each song is bad or anything, but because one song bleeds passively into the next, and the Eleven tracks last an endless Fifty-One minutes, nearly Ten minutes longer than their next largest disc. It feels weird tearing a band who I've always liked, especially when their newest isn't unlistenable by anyone's definition, but one thing has become clear to me in a very short amount of time: While I can't speak for you, and true Okkervil River fans might feel differently, I Am Very Far is most certainly not for me.

Grade: D+

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