During SXSW, Carter and I had the opportunity to catch local legends Okkervil River play to a sweaty, packed Mohawk crowd for the MOG Showcase. During the set, which slotted Okkervil after female rockers WILD FLAG and before TV on the Radio, lead singer Will Sheff and Co. played a number of new songs off of I Am Very Far, the band’s latest full-length effort which came out this past Tuesday. At the time, songs like I Am Very Far opener “The Valley” sounded raucous and boisterously urgent, but listening to the CD in its recorded entirety, a dark pall hovers over almost every track, infusing the CD with a more reverent theatricality than previous efforts like 2007’s The Stage Names (which happens to be the Okkervil offering that really got me interested in this Austin collection of musicians).
Of course, Sheff’s unique singing style and drawn-out diction remains stronger than ever on tracks like “Piratess” and first single “Rider” (which you can see the band perform live on Late Night with David Letterman this Friday, the 13th), and the disc is rife with Western imagery of longing, blood, sweat and tears. Sheff never leaves listeners at a loss for emotion, and his delivery throughout I Am Very Far serves as no deviation even when pining about “slobbering lovers” on “Lay of the Last Survivor.”
Overall, I Am Very Far is a marked evolution for Okkervil with songs like “We Need a Myth” and “Wake and Be Fine” showcasing the band’s newfound emotional restraint. Not every song needs to be as emotionally certain and bombastic as “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe,” and Sheff and Okkervil seem to have reached a happy medium where catchy theatrical pop and darker, more uncertain tones of sentimentality can coexist. I’m all for that, and I think you will be too.