Okkervil River

Away

ATO

Sep 07, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Okkervil River hit the roll of their lives during the mid to late part of the '00s, with their albums captivating critics and fans alike. They were the unique act who broadened their fanbase while continuing to expand their artistic horizons, no easy task. Then, circa the '10s, the plot shifted. Their albums were still great, but were perhaps a bit arcane for their fans, and with the sheer volume of music available and newer, younger bands and scenes vying for the same audience, their crowds and sales declined, which was a shame, given how good the material was.

Fast-forward to 2016, and Away, in which the first track, the funereal "Okkervil River R.I.P." seems to paradoxically have a Lazarus effect on frontman Will Sheff. Despite its concerns of mortality, most memorably in the devastating lyric, "But I think about Judee Sill dying in some trailer park out cocaine and codeine all alone," the song is an affirmation of the alchemical power of music in Sheff's life. It also references the recent death of his grandfather, which is a recurring theme, albeit elliptically, throughout Away

The entire album is as haunted by the specter of death and aging as Lou Reed's Magic and Loss, or R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People. But it's graceful, and redemptive, as Sheff confesses, with wry levity, "I'm not scared to die as long as I know that the universe has something really to do with me," on the pretty, shuffling "Call Yourself Renee."

Sheff drifts into fatuous music business concerns on the frivolous, relatively sprightly "The Industry," drolly mocking review scores and connections. But at the end of the day, this is an album of twilit ballads, staring down the barrel of middle age in an occupation predicated on youth and beauty. Perhaps both are fading for Okkervil River, but the strength of their songs aren't, and Away is a comeback album for a band that never really went away, a gorgeous collection of ballads that is the Okkervil River of your dreams.

Nothing feels forced here. It's just a tidal wave of grief and the wide-eyed wonderment of being alive, as poignant as anything Nick Drake ever penned, rife with resigned dignity. Dreams never do die, which is an overriding motif Sheff conveys with abject sorrow and grace throughout the astounding Away. (www.okervilriver.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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