Okkervil River Comes Back from Hiatus with “Away”

Payton Williams
Staff Writer

Few modern bands inspire devotion in quite the same way Okkervil River does. For 20 years, the band’s chief songwriter and fiery lyricist Will Sheff has been steadily crafting a sound that is effective and heartbreaking. Their sound blends punk and folk with the jazzy pop sensibilities of The Beatles and the abstract lyrical desperation of Neutral Milk Hotel.

Many fans have found themselves lost in their prolific web of albums. From 2005 to 2013, the band released great albums like “Black Sheep Boy” and “The Stage Names” on an almost yearly basis, defining a sound and storytelling style all their own. They have been notably absent for these last three years.

A lot can happen to a person in three years, and that would seem to be the case for Will Sheff. Since the band’s last album, “The Silver Gymnasium,” Sheff has turned 40, suffered a deeply affecting death in his family and witnessed the leaving of a large portion of his band. Now he is returning with a new album titled “Away,” and has released two singles from the album that show the weight of these recent events on his shoulders.

The first single, “Okkervil River RIP”, is the more striking of the two, and perhaps one of the greatest tracks in all of Okkervil River’s discography.

It opens with a softly fingerpicked guitar melody while Sheff, his voice more broken than ever, describes his aging in a way so palpable and heartbreaking, one can nearly watch him age.

Its effect is potent, and the song leaves a serious impression that many album openers cannot possibly muster.

The second single, “The Industry”, is one of the angrier songs in the Okkervil River canon. Over a fairly upbeat melody, Sheff sings about his disillusionment with the music industry he has given his life to. Sheff’s honesty, however, elevates the song above any of the passive-aggressive bile that might be expected in a song like this, and the upbeat music creates a powerful contrast.

“Away” is available now for streaming and download. This album is their second with ATO Records.

If the singles are any indicator, may be one of their greatest releases to date.

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