Okkervil River

Dalliance Review of 2011 More

2011 Review Your Attention

Written By Michael Wood Monday, January 9th, 2012

Eight Albums

  1. I Am Very Far - Okkervil River
    The best live band you will see doing Rock n' Roll shows have put out an album that shows the emotional range of one of their performances. Weaving between melancholia and pumped guitar stylings I Am Very Far is a band hitting the targets that it sets for itself, and very high targets those are. Lyrical, intelligent, excellent.
  2. Welcome To Condale - Summer Camp
    Out of the ethereal and onto record it has taken a long time for Summer Camp to emerge after some curious shows and a few hints towards obscurities. What emerges is an album recollecting a time not lived in a place that probably never existed but with a feel that is universal. Songs of heartache and loss are always played out well to a catchy beat.
  3. (I Can't Get No) - Stevie Jackson
    Or, if you will, the guy out of Belle & Sebastian doing his own thing and doing it so very well. The references are sixties pop of course but the immediacy of the guitar driven pop and the cute smartness of the lyrics are surprisingly effective.
  4. Nursing Home - Let's Wrestle
    It is thrashing guitars and sarcastic lyrics but that has never been something that upset me and Nursing Home manages not only to power through its running time in an indecent haste but also includes some laugh out loud funny moments. Superb.
  5. Collapse Into Now - R.E.M.
    Or if you will the end of an era. The last R.E.M. is another addition to the catalogue that adds breadth but lacks the depth of the earlier work of legend. Still a cracking listen and they will be missed.
  6. Obscurities - Stephin Merritt
    A collection of Merritt's offcuts from projects is always going to be a sketchy affair but the great stuff is really great stuff.
  7. Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010 - The Radio Dept.
    A singles collection, so perhaps it should not count, but unseen by most this Swedish band have been making a cerebral music that aches with a heartbreak unspeakable.
  8. An Argument with Myself EP - Jens Lekman
    An EP is half an album so Lekman only gets half points for this brilliant collection of songs about friends dying, getting lost in Melbourne and looking for movie stars in Sweden.

Four Tracks

  1. Hanging From A Hit - Okkervil River
    Will Sheff's lyrical masterpiece in two parts is a rock and roll's sexual predatory instinct hitting hard and cruel into a real life. Searing, dazzling, and darkly beautiful.
  2. Walked Out On a Line - Okkervil River
    A band so good they can leave this story of drug fuelled destruction on the shelf as Will Sheff and Co reference the sound of the Beach Boys while creating something utterly new. Key Lyric: In the storm's scream and swirl's/Where I spotted my girl/I was pinning her straight to my side.
  3. Waiting for Kirsten - Jens Lekman
    Lekman's true story of trying to meet Kirsten Dunst in Gothenberg uses the Swedish singer's favourite trick of lulling the listen in with a dry humour and twisting that humour into a thoughtful depression. Key Lyric: But the VIP lines are not to the clubs/But to healthcare, apartments and jobs./"Hey buddy can I borrow five grand?/'Cause my dad's in chemo/And they wanna take him off his plan."
  4. In Dreams Part II - Let's Wrestle
    Mayhem on a record. Key Lyric: In my dreams there were Pokemon beating me up/I punched Pidgeotto right in the face

Walked Out On a Line by Okkervil River More

One Track Tracks/Albums

Written By Michael Wood Sunday, March 6th, 2011

In a lull before the mid-year release of I Am Very Far what does one expect from a b-side - if there is such a thing any more - from the band that the world seems to have passed up in favour of The National that are Okkervil River?

Probably not this, a tune which seems to have seeped out of the cracks between what the band - superb at the best of times - want to do and want to avoid. It has a richness for sure and Will Sheff's vocals are always bled from the soul but there is something in the lilt of the singers voice.

Being able to write a line like "In the ambulance lamps of his eyes/and the smell of black blood on the backs of his hands/I could tell that his world can’t be mine." harms not the vocal but there is a sweet reflection and tenderness that swirls around the rising sounds that reach back to Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds and an era of American music often imitated but seldom advanced.

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Okkervil River the masters of invention More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Okkervil River at Academy 2, Manchester

Three things you can count on:

In Manchester it will rain. This is the first thing and sounds like a tired cliche but is true and this afternoon the rain has been heavy, filling the drains and bringing about a sewer smell to pervade the city and fill the lowest floor of what Will Sheff will call a "four level music processing facility."

You can count on Red High Tops too - this is the second thing - and I broke out a new pair for the wander up Oxford Road to the gig and although it is over twenty years since I first wandered to a gig in Converse. Chuck Taylor, Eddy Current, McCarthy's Larry. They are - or were - Americana.

Crawling out of Americana come Okkervil River. Okkervil River are a third thing you can count on. Will Sheff and his band are an unremittingly excellent collective in all they do. Five albums of intelligent, articulate and fascinating music and a string of live shows that take those songs further than one could have thought.

My definition of a good live performance is that a performer is able to take a song heard hundreds of times and breathe a new life into it, change intonations on lines to tweak context, alter the focus of narratives by dropping or raising vocal sections, embowering surprising and effective emotional layers onto what is already familiar. A good gig sees this happen three or four times. Okkervil River deliver such near magic dozens in occasions measured in dozens.

The band play a very similar set to the last time they played in this venue and while Sheff has not a beard and bassist Patrick Pestorius has shaved his off they look much the same as they did ten months ago. The acoustic guitar that Sheff strikes often and hard, throwing over his back on a well worn strap, is the same well scratched piece which played here last year.

Not reinvention then but rather invention. Invention coming in a performance that never goes beyond the remit of being a rock 'n roll show but rather celebrates the form.

Will Sheff uses a rich understanding of the rock n' roll performance to pull off all the tricks he can to beguile and audience that shows gig experience through it's part greying hair.

He drops to speech leading the audience back to "pause and add your own intentions/right here". He slows a song down to near still lingering over "just one rose/one day/and that was years ago." which cuts a swathe of silence through those collected here tonight in a genuine and affecting way.

Affecting too is the unsettling undertone underlying the Okkervil River catalogue and Sheff's battle torn lover is replaced by a seething menace who "thirsts for real blood/for real cuts..." stalking the centre of attention making you complicit in his crimes.

The beat of "a bad movie/where there is no crying" is pattered out in hand claps while "we sail out/on orders from him..." is intoned by Pestorius stepping out from bassist shadow to share Sheff's stage.

It is Sheff's stage though and he takes it for encore picking his beat up guitar and returns as the devastated lover "to cheat/on Maine Island" slowly, delicately, setting his voice against the embers of the evening.

Ultimately though Sheff lifts the mask a final time concluding the encore out at Westfall with easy murder and examination. Playfully he begs to be examined, to see if you can see the truth in his performance, see the legion in his swollen eyes. "Evil don't look like anything" he finalises daring you to carry on an investigation of what this occurrence, to analyse.

New insights gleaned, the night relies on that.

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The Raconteur, the sleep, the scratches on Will Sheff’s guitar and my Okkervil River Song More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Friday, November 7th, 2008

Okkervil River at Academy 3, Manchester

The stage of Manchester's Academy 3 is too small for Okkervil River.

For sure the six Americans fill the stage - a couple of them make up for the brawn lost in the slighter members - and for sure the multi-instrumental nature that sees guys playing keyboard them swapping to guitar and girls playing anything with strings on it adds clutter but this band are barely able to be contained by such small surroundings.

Okkervil River's singer/songwriter Will Sheff - resplendent in cheap funeral suit and a shocked mop of dark hair picked out against the stage lights - has the kind of charisma that one finds in a Morrissey or a Michael Stipe.

Will Sheff of Okkervil River

Sheff kicks his band into Plus Ones with the same faltering, ethereal way Stipe had around the time of R.E.M.'s fifth release Document. Comparisons are justified but the band's effort - Pop Lie - suggests they have been noted as does second effort of the night Singer/Songwriter.

Honesty is all here - The liar who lies in his song/And you're lying when you sing along - and Sheff exudes it.

The band's weight of back catalogue inspires devotees and so the songs familiar to most - new release The Stand Ins is their fifth - but are imbued with a freshness from phrasing and playfulness that rebirths every one.

Sheff has the air of practised raconteur telling a new story for the first time. Breathlessly, almost struggling to keep order of his thought as they spill into his songs, he brings a relevance and significance to his performance that fills every word, every line, with life.

No Key, No Plan - a hidden gem on Black Sheep Boy Appendix - which is rattled through with exuberance to the refrain Truly, I don’t think you'll find a happier man giving way to the jaw dropping moment of this gig. The stand out moment of any gig for this reviewer.

A Stone is stripped down to a three piece lament which in turn breaks down to Sheff himself, on stage, cast against white back light finishing off first with guitar and then just a voice. I think that I know the bitter dismay of a lover who brought/fresh brouquets every day/when she turned him away/to remember some knave/who once gave/just one rose [silence, pause] one day [silence, pause] and it was years ago

The sound could have been a pin dropping. A heart breaking. A million gigs colliding together into a single moment of perfection.

Then you see the bulbous eyes that Sheff casts over the room pushed out and puffed from crying too many tears. You see the scratches on Sheff's guitar where the pick has dragged on the upstroke in frantisism, in the need to play these songs right now, in the fact that he, that Okkervil River, really mean it.

They mean the intelligence as well as the emotion. They mean the smart and the heart. These are the things that make them exceptional.

That tattered acoustic guitar of Sheff is thrashed through an anthemic version of For Real and a mesmerised audience are wrapped and as requested clap in speedy time, then slower during Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe which for many gigs should be, would be the highlight.

Not tonight though. Tonight Okkervil River are a many facetted band. Lost Coastlines' banjo beginning and second singing by bassist Patrick Pestorius hits as close to perfection as any band gets

John Allen Smith Sails's Sloop John B close is the most exciting thing you've ever seen as it unfurls before you. In Starry Stairs they are playful cutting down sound to allow tape recording of Shannon Wilsey's voice haunting the room. No bookend with Savannah Smiles is the closest to a criticism I can manage.

Okkervil River on stage

Too quickly the night starts to end. They leave returning for a mellow, heartfelt, touching Girl In Port that seals the evening breathing in the life, the understanding, the reason why people still play live after the intention of the phonograph. Sheff bleeds the lines I'm a weak and lonely sort/but I'm not sailing just for sport/.../these several year out on the sea/left me empty cold and grey/pour yourself into me.

They close with their Okkervil River Song. They could be anything this band - and a new lexicon is needed to describe how good they were tonight - but they will never be so on the cusp again.

Commercially, creatively, critically anything is possible with wells of song writing and performance this deep.

Okkervil River are the stand out live act of this decade. Wow.

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