Okkervil River have been going for quite a while now, managing to boast a pretty much flawless discography, yet they are far from being an alt.country household name in the way that Bright Eyes and Wilco have achieved indie adoration despite a few sketchy releases of their own. I Am Very Far is yet another decent album to add to Okkervil River’s already fine back catalogue, but it still won’t launch their commendable career to Arcade Fire heights.
One of Okkervil River’s strengths has always been in front man Will Sheff’s ability to present a coherent and compelling concept within an album and run wild with it, always willing to let his listeners inside that mesmerising mind of his. Sheff has treated his fans with respect, trusting that he could spill his heart to them and, in turn, has won a reasonably sized and vigorously supportive fan-base. This release sees Sheff withdrawing ever so slightly and delivering an album which is considerably more opaque than previous outings.
The result of mixing wildly contrasting sounds throughout the album is an intentional sensation of bewilderment with Sheff himself claiming that, “The goal was to push my brain to places it didn’t want to go. The idea was to not have any idea – to keep myself confused about what I was doing”. Songs such as We Need A Myth dwell upon this idea of mystification, disenchantment and not truly knowing one’s true desires. The music is notably sure of itself, guitar stabs and piano chords confidently stride out throughout the song whilst Sheff sceptically laments, “We’re cut adrift/We need a mass uplift/The world is trembling and weeping/And at the point of believing/In a myth”.
Fans can expect to find Sheff in typically melodramatic mood on this album; song compositions are just as ambitiously intriguing and elaborate at times, such as in songs like Rider and Wake To Be Fine where Sheff gathered numerous musicians into the recording studio to meticulously record and re-record a single song for hours at a time. When less audacious and much steadier songs, such as the soft-rock inspired Piratess and the almost Bruce Springsteen-esque White Shadow Waltz find their groove, Sheff warbles and wails undulating melodies over the top. The first track The Valley opens the album in terrifically pompous style with sharp snare cracks, menacing strings and exuberant, impassioned vocals.
Much more petulant and moodier than previous albums, I Am Very Far swirls around in an illusory motion in which all manner of sounds and textures spin and whirl around the ubiquitous figure of Will Sheff; unwavering and untouchable, residing within the heart of the album’s hidden emotions.