Okkervil River seem to have a flair for the dramatic which has never been more apparent than on their latest offering, I Am Very Far. Abandoning some of the conceptual themes that drove Okkervil’s previous albums, I Am Very Far plays like a songwriter having pushed himself and his band in a new direction. Still present is a darkness and ambiguity in its lyrics and the dramatic arcs and sways in the music. However, this time around it’s a little more intense and wide open.
Apparently, a couple of times during the recording process, band leader Will Sheff brought in two drummers, two pianists, two bassists and seven guitar players and recorded in the same room while doing multiple takes until the songs were just right. On these songs, “Rider” and “Wake and Be Fine,” you can nearly feel the tension crackling from the speakers. These are easily two of the best tracks on the album due to their huge and almost celebratory nature. But this isn’t light-hearted cheer rock, nor is it a gloomy blues jam. Rather, it is an interesting mix of the two. Themes of death and violence are tucked away neatly inside hopeful passages, while a staggering array of strings, choral arrangements, horns and even filing cabinets being thrown across a room carry you out to sea. But forget trying to navigate these waters because it’s not even certain that Sheff himself knows where he’s going. It’s not that I Am Very Far is a confounding departure from past works, but it is clear that this is a different album than what fans might be used to. It is an album that has been written from a place where past ideas and concepts don’t exist, a clean slate if you will, and from that has been born a crisp, loose and magnificent piece of art.