Okkervil River is at its best when it’s in full-on epic rock mode, which is why I Am Very Far’s “Rider” is the album’s strongest track–a rollicking, piano-led anthem with a classic drum breakdown and shades of Springsteen and the Stones (“Street Fighting Man,” in particular). But in comparison to the intricately built, bop-along “Rider,” much of the album feels slow, unfocused, and a little sloppy.
On album track opener “The Valley,” all the elements are in place for an arena-sized number –strings and stomps are abound–but the vocal melody is just not catchy enough to sing along with. It’s too shouty to provide any sort of emotion, and too dark and depressing to enjoy listening to (“slit throat” and “bloody gunshot” are prominent lyrics, perpetuating Okkervil River’s tendency to use death imagery).
Much of the rest of the album, similarly, can’t seem to balance the upbeat and anthemic with the dark and brooding. “White Shadow Waltz,” “We Need A Myth,” and “Wake and Be Fine” stick out as the tracks that deserve frequent replays. They’re big, building rockers with lead singer Will Sheff’s raw vocals perfectly anchoring and accompanying the immense orchestrations.
But these songs are sandwiched between minimalist, slower, weaker tracks like “Piratess” (which sounds like TV on the Radio gone wrong), “Lay Of The Last Survivor,” and “Show Yourself.” Even when these songs do try and build to some kind of orchestral climax, it never feels natural; instead feeling like a slow song trying to make itself interesting for a portion of the track.
Ultimately, I Am Very Far’s musical diversity hurts the album far more than it helps. The transition from track two to track three, “Piratess” to “Rider,” demonstrates this best. It’s jarring and strange, like hearing two separate bands: one experimenting and failing at a new sound (new-wave soul in particular), the other masterfully building on the sound they’ve been perfecting for years (“Unless It’s Kicks” and “Lost Coastlines” come to mind). They should stick to the latter.
01 The Valley
04 Lay of the Last Survivor
05 White Shadow Waltz
06 We Need a Myth
07 Hanging From a Hit
08 Show Yourself
09 Your Past Life as a Blast
10 Wake and Be Fine
11 The Rise
Free MP3: Okkervil River – “Wake and Be Fine”