Okkervil River’s I Am Very Far opens like a slap across the face. The first crisp hits of the snare drum in “The Valley” are a jolt of energy, an invigorating introduction to the band’s sixth studio album. The Austin quintet never abandons the bombast of these initial beats, but instead revels in this theatricality for the album’s duration. Even the slightly haphazard waltz of “Hanging from a Hit” or the dwindling oohs of “The Rise” are imbued with an almost overwhelming dynamism. From powerful start to fading finish, I Am Very Far masters the art of coming undone.
The band has as many as 13 members, with doubled instruments battling Will Sheff’s distinctive warble. His famous wordplay is no less evident on this latest work, although the album’s lyrics are more agonized, even violent (“A slit throat makes a note like a raw winter wind”). The verbose lyricism adds to the sense that each song is constantly on the brink of chaos: “Rider,” for example, starts as a boisterous romp and ends up feeling like caffeine jitters. Like many of the album’s eleven tracks, it just barely maintains control.
Despite its larger-than-life presentation, I Am Very Far is a more personal album than many of Okkervil River’s other works. The same qualities that make the album feel almost extravagant also illustrate vulnerability: the overpowering orchestration, the enigmatic lyrics. Comparisons to Arcade Fire will no doubt be rampant, and although certainly justified, the two bands ultimately achieve different ends. I Am Very Far only sometimes creates the tangible emotional connection we associate with Arcade Fire, but that does not appear to be its intent. Instead, Okkervil River’s latest work is the reflection of a complex mind.