Okkervil River: “Mermaid”

Our goal as a site is to promote Austin bands to the wider world. In most cases, that means featuring bands that may not already be getting press from other corners of the Internet. As a general rule, you won’t see much Spoon or Willie Nelson on here. And Okkervil River would probably fall into that realm of artists: the household names to national music fans. However, rules were made to be broken, and for a song as beautiful as “Mermaid,” this rule is being obliterated.

I’m not a gung-ho advocate of Will Sheff and the rest of Okkervil River, but I’ve always liked their 2005 Black Sheep Boy and I made a point of seeing them at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco in October 2009. But I was certainly not eagerly awaiting their next release with baited breath – which may be why I fell even harder for this song.

Okkervil River - Mermaid
Right Click to Download: Okkervil River – Mermaid

“Mermaid” is a story told by a sailor about his and his crew’s run-in with and subsequent kidnapping of a mermaid in the open sea. The lyrics are phenomenal, as evidenced by Sheff’s description of the beautiful creature: “She’s pretty I think / With her hair dark as ink / And her belly bone-white / And her lips of a slight / Seashell pink.” The imagery! The rhyme scheme!

And the music complements the lyrics perfectly, which is why this version, released a few weeks ago, is far superior to the bare version included on the In Search of a Midnight Kiss soundtrack in 2008 (not to mention some additional verses). The accordion, mandolin and trumpet give it the feel of a sea shanty, and the strings heighten the maudlin melodrama. Eventually, a storm overtakes the sailors in a cacophony noise and key changes and you can’t help but think that they got everything they deserved.

Their album, I Am Very Far, is due out on May 10th and since it will not include this song, it is sure to be amazing. And we’ll of course let you know next time they’re playing in town.