Okkervil River - In The Rainbow Rain

by James Weiskittel Rating:8 Release Date:2018-04-27
Okkervil River - In The Rainbow Rain
Okkervil River - In The Rainbow Rain

Okkervil River, the Austin-based outfit led by singer-songwriter Will Sheff, have been redefining expectations for the better part of two decades, growing their audience with one genre-bending release after another.  After a well-received, major label release (2013’s The Silver Gymnasium), Sheff & Co. released 2016’s introspective Away, an album permeated by a somber, reflective tone that was, in many ways, a personal catharsis for Sheff.

Following the tour for Away, Sheff decided to take his re-tooled live band into the studio with the hopes of capturing the vibe and energy that had come to define the previous trek’s live shows.  That decision resulted in the creation of In The Rainbow Rain, a ten song collection that is perhaps Okkervil River’s most sonically ambitious musical statement to date, a feat all the more impressive given the vast scope of the band’s previous efforts.  

While the accompanying press release describes In The Rainbow Rain as something of a “modern secular gospel record”, the characterization does not even begin to do justice to the adventurous tone the band has struck this time around.  From the album-opening “Famous Tracheotomies” (which delivers a genius lyric that manages cleverly name-check the likes of Gary Coleman, Mary Wells, and Ray Davies by way of one traumatic anecdote after another), to the infectiously upbeat “Pulled Up The Ribbon”, and the synth-laden “Love Somebody”, it's clear that Sheff and Co. had little interest in simply crafting another ‘folk’ album this time around.

That’s not to say that the band’s penchant for ambition and grandeur has been set aside, as tracks like “The Dream and the Light”, and the album-closing “Human Being Song” can easily be compared to the cinematic epics from the band’s past.  What really sets In The Rainbow Rain apart from the rest of Okkervil River's catalog, however, is the modern tinge that has been applied to much of the album’s production.  From an array of synth-textures to a noticeable addition of bottom end, In The Rainbow Rain joyfully leaps from the speakers.

Each Okkervil River release has felt like an artistic labor of love in one way or another, and this new album is no different.  And while it’s not necessarily a perfect album, (the band still struggles with self-editing, and Sheff’s lyrical choices can sometimes land a bit too ‘on the nose’ for his own good), In The Rainbow Rain (to take the boxing metaphor one step further) lands the majority of its punches, easily winning on points.  

Whether or not In The Rainbow Rain signifies an artistic side-step,or the beginning of an adventurous new journey remains to be seen, but at the very least (and for the first time in a long time), Okkervil River sounds like they are having a blast together.

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