Album Review: Okkervil River, ‘Away’

Written by Andrew Howie

Cover for Okkervil River's Album Away

After seeing a slew of intense shows over the past few weeks, from My Morning Jacket, Phish and Ween to Jerry Douglas and Rusted Root, I’ve been craving some more relaxed music, more pensive and meandering, just to get myself centered and back on track. I heard that a band I listened to back in the day, Okkervil River, released a new album last Friday, so I decided to dig in. I remembered them being a positive experience, and September 9’s Away was a marvelous find.

Right away the album starts out soothing and peaceful, their buzzy drone anchoring the various flutes, keyboards, guitars, lilting vocals, and uplifting orchestral strings towards a bright and cleansing crescendo. Will Sheff, the bandleader, is originally from New Hampshire, but the band is based out of Texas, and you can really hear the different places he’s been throughout the music.

You could be forgiven at first for thinking Okkervil River is just another reverb-soaked dream-folk act, but once you give their tunes a second spin, you start to notice all the lush background sound; it’s much more enveloping and patient, loping along at its own pace, never hurried. As I listen now, I’m filled with a desire to go to a river. Very sunny, with an almost classical feel with the strings and flutes.

As I keep listening, it becomes clear this is multi-situational music, and that is hard to find these days: something equally appropriate for sitting solo on the porch, fishing, jamming with friends, at a backyard hangout, or on the stage. It gets all splashy and ‘60s-style while still being very much in the now and in touch with the way folk music is moving. Not that this is just folk, I think that’s pretty clear by this point, but that’s certainly an element. It’s like progressive folk with world music elements drenched in a soft glow.

I can tell this is the kind of album I’ll be listening to during different seasons to see what I notice under opposing conditions. Weather can have a powerful effect on music and vice versa, and I am continually struck by the emotive nature of this record (the bird chirps, ocean waves, and sounds of wind in the trees don’t hurt either). Little electronic blips show up occasionally to tremendous effect, rippling through the acoustics and percussion ever so delicately, almost improvsationally.

After listening to Away, I feel as though I need to listen to everything they’ve ever done. I listened to them a little bit a few years ago, but this necessitates hearing everything I can from Okkervil River. If moderately complex, densely-instrumented, thoughtful prog-folk with world music elements sounds like it’s something you’d be into, then give this a shot. I hope it proves as pleasant for you and your ears as it was for me and mine.

Rating: 9 out of 10