Posted on May 13th, 2011 (11:00 am) by Joseph Bogen

To be honest, I’d rather write about The Grateful Dead than Okkervil River’s latest album, I Am Very Far. I turned my back on the group in 2003 when they were still a folk rock band with a following primarily in Austin. Their Stars Too Small to Use EP and emotional performances had caught my interest, but somewhere after their first album and before the second, I got sick of this band. I thought Will Sheff’s singing and pretentiousness might have been to blame, or maybe it was their sound. Thankfully, when I listen to I Am Very Far, I hear a band that has evolved into a powerful rock group and a singer that has finally learned how to control his voice.

Nonetheless, while Sheff has clearly matured as a songwriter and a performer, he still can’t resist making every song into something big. Only “Pirates”, which brings to mind Pulp in the early/mid ‘90s, resists the urge to explode into something grand. Every other song feels overstuffed with emotion. So when I listen to the piercing, angst filled opener, “Valley”, I’m immediately intrigued and drawn into the album. The anthemic melody of “Rider” makes me want to love this album so that I can have a reason to listen to this song more, but by the time I get through “White Shadow Waltz”, I’m starting to grow tired, and I’m not even halfway through the album. Songs that start out soft like “The Rise” and “Mermaid” are rendered boring when I realize that every song on here has to build to some sort of climax. Okkervil River show they have learned how to craft solid pop songs with tracks like “Lay of the Last Survivor” and “Your Past Life as a Blast”, but they are over shadowed by the band’s need to turn every song into a powerful statement.

The last time I saw Okkervil River in concert, I remember watching Will Sheff scream and flail in front of the microphone and thinking, “This is stupid.” The sad part was that he seemed to sing the same way on the albums. He’s clearly moved past that here, but the need to drive every song further than it needs to go persists. As a result, I can’t imagine myself ever listening to this band for a whole hour. I’d much rather listen to a band that knows how to have a good time even if they can’t write songs as good as these.

Track List:

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

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

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67 / 100
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