Reviews

Okkervil River

Okkervil River has become part of the growing body of hyper-referential, linked-in art that represents the fractured yet joyous way we accumulate knowledge on and off the information superhighway.

Okkervil River

Okkervil River

City: Sydney, AUS
Venue: Manning Bar
Date: 2008-02-27

It's a bit difficult for me to articulate why I think Okkervil River are so special. It's not just Will Sheff's enigmatically playful lyrics; nor is it merely the impressive lability of his vocals’ emotional articulation (bounding from aching loneliness to triumph to dismissal to desolation). No, it's got to do with something Sheff said to radio personality Richard Kingsmill in an interview on Australian radio. He was talking about how the latest album, The Stage Names, was informed by the myriad referents that make up the fabric of our everyday conversations, the language of our increasingly complex cultural world. Of course, you don't need to get all the references to get something out of this new type of intertextual language (otherwise it wouldn't be worthwhile as art). But it is integral to the contemporaneity, or, as Sheff puts it, the modernity, of The Stage Names. It is in this way that Okkervil River has become part of the growing body of hyper-referential, linked-in art that embraces, rather than explains, our individual referential universes. I'm thinking of the classical music of YouTube-collating Nico Muhly; of the sometimes-astounding associative investigations of blogs like This Recording; of collating and streamlining programs that make it all just that much easier to grab hold of pretty much any information you need. Am I the only one who finds this kind of work incredibly fascinating? I'm convinced it's the most effective way to represent the fractured yet joyous way we accumulate knowledge in digestible packets on and off the information superhighway. Incidentally: since we're practicing this, take some time to listen to some clips of Muhly. Get lost in the self-referential This Recording archives. And cue up a few of these tunes as an accompaniment while you're reading. Which is all to say that Will Sheff and Okkervil River are a thrilling part of the ever-pushing-forward set of artists weaving together stories about our culture in all its many layers. And while of course it's true that in the live setting the group can’t entirely recreate its new album’s sense of infinite connectivity, the group manages to not only keep but play up the playfulness that infuses songs like "The Latest Toughs" or "Plus Ones". They did in Sydney last week, anyway. You get a much fuller sense of Okkervil River's pop/rock song structures when they’re presented live: with each song easily filling out to five or six minutes, the ways in which the underlying verses and choruses fit together come through clearer. Sheff often takes the songs faster than on record; this emphasizes the jaunty, upbeat aspects of songs like "Unless It's Kicks" and “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe". Okkervil River seem to have been burdened with fighting off label after label, the two favorites being "alt-country" and "lit rock". Maybe the best argument against this pigeonholing is watching the band connect with an unusually diverse audience live. That’s a cinch for a group whose act has been honed through months of touring off the back of a six-month-old but still thrilling album. The band doesn’t just sing about being on the road, it lives it. Throughout the show, upbeat versions of favourites from their last two albums buzzed with precision. Drummer Travis Nelsen held his instrument gingerly before unleashing a bounding energy in the choruses, and the group jammed a little, but never tiresomely. They are professionals, and Will Sheff is a rock star. Suddenly he says, “We’re going to play a few slow songs so we can hear your conversations better,” and the place goes completely silent: more than a few people will remember the breath-held minutes of “A Stone” and “So Come Back, I Am Waiting” that followed. The band can echo a funeral dirge, or a Civil War band, or a cacophony of noise at will. Sheff held out the line “pour yourself into me” from the epic “A Girl in Port” forever, and the cathartic response from the audience was palpable. At the end, after the second encore, the crowd were still shouting to each other, “Evil don’t look like anything.” Although the band didn’t come back for another round, Sheff surely noted the sound of his words in other people’s mouths -- more proof, as if he needed any, that his has already joined the web of voices he himself is pulling from.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.