Their first album since The Stands Ins from 2008, Okkervil River's sixth full length, entitled I Am Very Far, expresses the distinct achievement of creating an intricately composed album. The details are subtle, but these subtleties are in fact the elevating elements that drive the album above a clever compilation of melodies, and rather demonstrate an innate knowledge and instinct for musical expression's soft beauty. It favors a contrasting arrangement, driving instrumentals with calm and peaceful tunes or sometimes excitable and scurrying melodies that are splashed against a vocal depth, which introduces an added layer of emotional exploration. Nothing is held back, yet the LP does not force its message upon the listener in high volume, but instead takes care in exacting out captured moments with the precise delicacy and power that most musicians can only hope to achieve.
Opening track "The Valley" gives the listener a slight push into the middle of the minds of Okkervil River. You enter the album surrounded by a lyrical chant, strong snares, and echoing claps. The band then demonstrates that they have no intention of setting you free, repeating the poignant line "He has fallen in the valley of the rock and roll dead", and invites a group effort, as the song offers many opportunities for a foot stomp and shout-along anthem. Things then calm down marginally for "Piratess". But despite displaying less of an intrusive beat, the rhythm in this second song is slick and deliberate, accented with vocalist Will Sheff's mournful waves of contemplation, which possess the same haunting seduction similar to Matt Berninger of The National. "Rider" caters more towards a classically pop-Americana tradition. Had it been performed by a different vocalist, this song wouldn't have been out of place on a Bruce Springsteen album, blasting through the car windows of every coastal youth. It has a non-stop, jingling momentum, propelled by an emotional pride that is fervently present in the lyrics, instruments, and melody.
"Lay of the Last Survivor" begins to cater to the dual expression that is prominent in I Am Very Far. The track operates amongst a relaxed beat, but the melancholy wind instruments and mournful vocals express a deeper sadness inside the song's calming nature. Next up, "White Shadow Waltz" begins with an upbeat flurry, but once again contrasts this instrumental vibe with drawn out and wistful vocals. The music eventually catches up to the off-putting vocal attitude as a clamouring of drums unhinge the formerly succinct structure. Following track "We Need A Myth" emphasizes a whimsical theme with displays of piano mastery and hopeful violins to brighten the middle of the album. It is certainly not a filler song, but in fact churns into such an emotional build that it transforms into one of the most powerful creations of all the tracks.
Lyrical inferences are finally blended with instrumental reflections during "Hanging From A Hit", as both mold together into a truly gorgeous piece that is heavy in graceful sadness. "Show Yourself", on the other hand, veers lightly along a more abstract and quietly sinister level. The vocals are nearly whispered, yet packed with intriguing inflections that provoke one to lean in for a closer listen. The song includes abrupt clashes of sound, but still keeps in line with the alluding darkness. "Your Past Life As A Blast" is definitely one of the more upbeat numbers; it kicks up into a lively groove that promotes inclusive cheer, offering one of the more exciting feels within the LP.
Like the rest of the album, the final two closing tracks are inescapably packed with emotion. A balance of insistent grooves with strong vocals are maintained during "Wake and Be Fine", straight through the transition into final track "The Rise". This closing number is mostly a touching, piano-driven take on the same melody of "Wake and Be Fine", a similar switch as many have made to add a sense of depth to their music. Though "The Rise" possesses a comforting stillness, it hits harder into the emotional connectivity of the album. The prolonged ethereal breakdown to end the song wraps up the budding theatrics of I Am Very Far, complementing the clearly careful thought and heart that is almost tangible within each song.
I Am Very Far lands with an impacting, largely orchestrated feel, but more importantly, a certain thought-out quality. It does not simply provide a collection of favorites from the band, but rather explores a string of related material, composing a full album experience rather than only a compiled selection of tunes, both cohesive and fulfilling.