- by James Weiskittel Rating:7 Release Date:2016-09-09 Label: ATO Records
Consistently brilliant album covers notwithstanding, Austin based Okkervil River has enjoyed a hard earned, well deserved climb to their current status as Americana/folk A-listers. Since self-releasing their first release nearly two decades ago, the band has dropped a steady stream of albums and eps culminating with 2013’s fantastic The Silver Gymnasium. The band's eighth full-length Away is yet another blissful excursion into the sights and sounds of yesteryear via singer/songwriter Will Sheff’s reflective songs.
Birthed in the midst of personal and professional drama, Away conveys a loose narrative of sorts, beginning with the opening track “Okkervil River R.I.P.” and it's not so subtle nod to the numerous lineup changes (as well as some personal losses for Sheff) the band has recently endured.
Elsewhere, songs like “The Industry”, “Judey on a Street” and “Frontman in Heaven” continue to explore the idea of the intangible myth of rock stardom and the pitfalls that often accompany the ride. In fact, much of Away lyrically plays on the universal theme of loss and the desire for something new.
While new faces abound in the cast and crew this time around, Okkerville has always really been about Sheff's songs. With nearly every track in this nine song collection clocking in at around the seven minute mark, Away feels more like a personal rumination than the major-label follow up that management and hangers-on were surely hoping for. And to that point, it’s Away’s monochromatic vibe that works against it at times, as the somber tone and nature of the songs coupled with their overall length can feel a bit burdensome the first time through.
While not necessarily for the feint of heart, Away rewards repeated listens and very much feels like a new beginning for this storied band. With songs that run the gamut from quiet folk-country to rawked-out Americana, Okkervil River's Away is an open invitation to the audience via a personal farewell.