Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

written by: May 13, 2011
Release Date: May 10, 2011


I Am Very Far, the title of the new Okkervil River album is quite appropriate. Will Sheff is indeed very far from his former self on this 11-track set. The visceral, folky force that made Black Sheep Boy sounds like it wants to be an arena band on I Am Very Far. Perhaps this shift has been natural, perhaps it’s due to the membership changes over the years, but what is certain is that this version of Okkervil River is their biggest leap in sound yet.

When the term “indie arena rock” band gets thrown around, one name comes to mind: Arcade Fire. It’s no surprise, then, that I Am Very Far contains hints of their components. Nuances in the arrangements stand out, for instance the tremolo picked guitar lines, the string interjections and even the drum beat and feel created in “Your Past Life as a Blast” can be traced directly to the Canadian monolith.

But unlike the works of Arcade Fire, and even Okkervil River themselves on records past, I Am Very Far lacks a conceptual unity.

This is their first record where the songs aren’t interconnected in some way. This allows Sheff a wider set of topics for the lyrics, which are strong as usual, but the songs do at times feel disjointed.

While there are some cool moments like the string swooping in opener “The Valley,” most of the arrangements fall flat. Sometimes layers are added for what seems like no other purpose than extra sound. Strings pop in with a few arpeggios on “Rider” which really don’t do anything for the song. Notes on the glockenspiel are hammered away as the song builds which are too buried in the mix to serve a purpose, but bringing them up would only reveal excessive use, often mirroring another instrument.

Sheff used to belt out guttural notes like he was having a meltdown in the studio. On this record, Sheff sounds composed, too composed even. The moments where they build intensity never really reach an emotional culmination. However, Sheff’s mellow side has also been a strong point and this is where the songs still excel. The best moments are where he restrains the arrangements and croons. “Mermaid” is a gorgeous track with perfectly minimal piano and guitars and horns that peer through open space in the chorus complementing the melody. The track slowly builds, but it’s more of a tease this time around – the music drops back down for another verse to close – and it works. Closer “The Rise” shares similar qualities, with gorgeous woodwinds and a powerful coda that slowly falls apart.

Still, these tracks aren’t nearly as affecting as the brutally emotional lows on Black Sheep Boy and there are no solid singles like “Lost Coastlines” on their previous effort, The Stand Ins. It just sits somewhere in the middle and fails to have much of an effect on the listener. Sheff can be commended for taking the band’s sound to new places, but in this case I Am Very Far is far from being a success.

Okkervil River – I Am Very Far Tracklist:

  1. “The Valley”
  2. “Piratess”
  3. “Rider”
  4. “Lay Of The Last Survivor”
  5. “White Shadow Waltz”
  6. “We Need A Myth”
  7. “Hanging From A Hit”
  8. “Show Yourself”
  9. “Your Past Life As A Blast”
  10. “Wake And Be Fine”
  11. “The Rise”