I Am Very Far
May 10, 2011 Web Exclusive
I Am Very Far continues Will Sheff and co.'s remarkable run of albums, one that finds them at peak form and threatens to put them in a class all their own. Over their last few records, Okkervil River have become tighter and tighter, their pop gems polished to a diamond sheen. I Am Very Far, however, returns to the shaggier freedom of 2005's Black Sheep Boy, and then takes it even further.
I Am Very Far explodes out of the gate with "The Valley," a brutal, crushing anthem with tribal drums and lyrics as much chanted as sung. It's immediately followed by the melodic slink of "Piratess": "It's 2:00, and your sister's slip falls, and the afternoon crawls across the room and tackles her." Taken out of context, a listener would hear one song and then the other and think they bear no relation, and yet, somehow they fit completely. This is Okkervil's neatest trick on I Am Very Far: making a group of songs that initially seem disparate end up feeling like family.
"Show Yourself" has backing vocals just a tick off-time, giving the appearance of a thrown-off laziness that would make Pavement proud. But when the guitars kick in towards the end of the track, feeling like they're coming from a different room, that disheveled look straightens itself right up. This is followed by "Your Past Life as a Blast," I Am Very Far's finest contribution to the Okkervil songbook. With its catchy shimmering guitars, stunted keyboard lines, and Sheff's slightly slurred vocal, it exemplifies the tossed-off-but-labored-over tension that makes I Am Very Far such a thrilling record to experience.
I Am Very Far makes a strong case for Sheff to be considered one of the very best writers in music today. As the lyric book can attest, Sheff sings short stories as often as poetry, but he bends them to the will of the song, something that very few lyricists have ever tried, much less turned into such gorgeous melodies. "Your Past Life as a Blast" has the greatest opening lines in a long while: "Your life, back in a banner year/A blast of light, a brace of cheers." It's truly remarkable stuff, worth rereading.
I Am Very Far is certainly one of the best records of the year, but looking at this stretch of recordings with such a finite lens is doing them a disservice: this is music to cherish forever. (www.okkervilriver.com)
Author rating: 9/10
Average reader rating: 9/10