The past is prologue
In the Rainbow Rain celebrates the inward in all its complexities, sorrow and hope. It’s a pop album that eschews catchy melodies and saccharine harmonies to envelop the listener in a warm embrace as if imploring you to relax and enjoy the patter of the rain on the roof and embrace the steady but unpredictable path it takes as it flows down the window.
Lead singer and songwriter Will Sheff doesn’t try to change his world, just he just tries to understand it. “I’m staring down a stream of sweet impressions,” he sings on “Love Somebody.” The lyrically complex song tells about needing something you can’t quite attain, a feeling that’s “so bad I wanna break that wall/ that always seems to cut me off from you all.” Sheff’s delicate vocals and the song’s atmospheric instrumentation imitate the isolation, but also show a way to bridge the gap.
On “Don’t Move Back to LA” Sheff implores us to keep moving forward but reminds us that in order to move forward you must stop and look backward. The dreamy refrain of “don’t move back to LA” haunts the song like the memories that Sheff can’t expand upon but that stay with him as he warns how “those West Coast cats” are “gonna turn you around…gonna break you down.”
The deeply personal album flows from one song to the next, each one a unique perspective from Sheff while also a coherent piece of the whole album. Though “Famous Tracheotomies” is a hushed personal account and “How It Is” is muted, but celebratory, the album’s warmth and feeling of hope persists through the entirety.
Okkervil River gets its name from a short story by Tatyana Tolstaya which in turn is named after the tributary that runs through St. Petersburg. For hundreds of years, the river has meandered through human settlements surrounding it, bearing witness to incessant change all while it remained. The band has seen similar change with many different members over the years but Sheff has persisted as the leader throughout.
Sheff’s most honest song comes at the end of the album and comments on all the problems that precede it. “It’s hard to be a human being,” Sheff sings on “Human Being Song.” Sheff both narrows and broadens his perspective, telling us how hard it is “to open up your heart,” not just in the abstract, though, because in writing an album one has to “face the fact that you could fail/ and show the world what you don’t know.” It’s a perilous notion, but Sheff keeps looking forward.
Heraclitus said, “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Neither the man nor the river can cease rushing forward, swirling and changing, pushed forward by the relentless momentum of what’s behind. But In the Rainbow Rain reminds you to look back every once in a while as you move forward.