Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
We Need A Myth
Review of Okkervil River’s I Am Very Far
Alexandra ValentiIf Will Sheff has ever felt too predictable in what people expect from Okkervil River, he’s really got no one to blame but himself. Since their breakout 2005 record Black Sheep Boy, the band in which he’s been the only real constant has made a habit (okay, twice) of releasing literarily-inclined multi-volume sets with a very specific narrative and musical themes; Black Sheep Boy being a mythically-tinged folk-rock study of the Tim Hardin song and the 2007-08 season’s production of The Stage Names/The Stand Ins was his ruminations on fame and the rock’n’roll life set to a soundtrack appropriately indebted to classic sounds of the ’60s and ’70s.
It’s an approach that has worked, clearly; each of Okkervil’s releases has brought the band more and more acclaim and all have been favourites around these parts. But based on their new record I Am Very Far, it’s one that required a little shaking up. Or a lot. While time will tell if there’ll be a companion record released in the near future, those looking for an easy angle on what Very Far is about, thematically, will be disappointed – having essentially put novels and memoirs to song, Sheff has now assembled his short story collection with each of the record’s eleven songs standing self-contained, both lyrically and musically. And it’s on the latter point that I Am Very Far really stands apart from its predecessors.
With a markedly different lineup from their last recordings, it’s inevitable that Okkervil would sound at least a little different. But rather than simply accept those variances, Sheff has opted to exploit them and give the band a new sonic identity. His own perfectly imperfect vocals remain the most identifying trait, but everything around it is bigger and broader-sounding than ever before. This is easily Okkervil’s most produced record ever, but rather than the extra gloss that that usually implies, here it means density. Overdubs and extra players, musical styles heretofore unexplored – dig the almost disco-ish groove of “Piratess” – and crazy echos and reverbs pervade the record as does an almost manic (or maniacal) sense of relentless restlessness; its bloodshot energy is almost as uncomfortable to listen to as it is invigorating. Some might suggest that I Am Very Far is the band’s bid to break into the mainstream but I think that if that was their intention, they’d sound like they’d have gotten a little more sleep before pressing “record”.
But for all the tumult that has obviously gone into making I Am Very Far, after a few acclimatizing listens, something quite beautiful emerges. The freedom gained from putting everything that defined Okkervil on the table with this record combined with Sheff’s already formidable skills as a songwriter, lyricist and arranger have produced the sort of album that I imagine most bands of a certain tenure long for; one that the more you thought you knew what the band were about, the more you’d be surprised by and which is like discovering one of your favourite bands again for the first time.
Spinner talks to Will Sheff and Pat Pestorius about making the new album. They play The Phoenix on June 10.
San Diego’s Crocodiles, whom I’d begun to think had some personal issue with Toronto for their never touring up this way, will make up for their absence in a big way for NXNE as they will play a three-night residency at The Silver Dollar over the course of the festival, June 17, 18 and 19, with a different undercard each night.
The best of news, the worst of news. With their self-titled album due out on June 21, Bon Iver have announced a Summer tour that brings Justin Vernon and company back to Toronto on August 8… to The Sound Academy. Well at least it’ll be warm. Tickets are $35 general admission, $45 VIP and go on sale Friday. Support will come from Vernon’s old bandmates The Rosebuds, who themselves have a new record out in Loud Planes Fly Low, out June 7.
New York singer-songwriter Lia Ices has announced a date at The Rivoli for August 9, tickets $12, and has also released a video for the title track of her debut album Grown Unknown. The Georgia Straight has a profile.
The National have taken their two recent non-album releases – songs from the Win/Win film and Portal 2 video game soundtracks – and put them on a 7″ single for those who like physical things made of vinyl.
NYC Taper is sharing a recording of an Antlers show in New York from earlier this week. Their new record Burst Apart is out today and Pitchfork has an in-studio video performance of one the new songs with an assist from Neon indian. There’s interviews with the band at The Huffington Post, eMusic and Village Voice. They play The Mod Club on June 14.
Death Cab For Cutie have released a second video from Codes & Keys, out May 31. They’ve got two local dates coming up – May 18 at The Phoenix and July 29 at The Molson Amphitheatre. Tickets for the latter will range from $29.50 to $49.50 and go on sale Friday at 1PM. Black Book talks food with Ben Gibbard.