Band of the Day

2011.09.25

Okkervil River

Rowdy folk rock with a passionately poetic soul
It's just a life story, so there's no climax. No more new territory, so pull away the IMAX.
lyrics from Our Life Is Not...

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Okkervil River is a folk influenced indie-pop band. Singer-songwriter Will Sheff (vocals, guitar) founded the group in 1998 with college mates from Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. After deciding to move to indie music mecca Austin, Texas to pursue their musical aspirations, the group now consists of Justin Sherburn (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Lauren Gurgiolo (guitar, pedal steel, mandolin), Patrick Pestorius (bass, keyboards) and Cully Symington (drums). The name Okkervil River is derived from a short story written by Tatyana Tolstaya. The band's sound is noted for its eclectic mixture of classic pop structures, diverse folk instrumentation, catchy vocal melodies and thematic albums. The vocals, which are sung in a passionate and energetic fashion, always stand out in the middle the group's upbeat hum-along-verses and choruses. Their sound has earned them an international fan base, an appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, as well as performances alongside bands such as the Decemberists and Lou Reed. Since their debut Bedroom EP in 1998, Okkervil River has released six LPs along with a large number of singles, EPs and split albums. The group's first big break was with their 2007 LP The Stage Names on Jagjaguwar Records. The album sold 10,000 units in it's opening week and launched the group to a #62 position in the US charts. Okkervil River's current album, I am Very Far, was released in 2011 by Jagjaguwar Records, and has reached a #32 chart position in the US and #66 in the UK.

Austin's Okkervil River are a bar band at heart; they write passionate, even rowdy rock music that's perfect for throwing back some drinks and shooting pool to. But if you stumbled on them in America's capital of live music, you'd risk dropping your drink as you lost all muscle control in astonishment at how far they exceed their peers. The band has been around since the late 90s, consistently releasing country-infused indie rock with a flair for amazing lyrics. Band leader Will Sheff is a true songwriter. His efforts reflect a well of talent and a mastery of the craft. Lyrics and music reinforce and build off each other, creating songs that are great musically, and also deeply powerful. Since their 2005 breakthrough Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River have wowed audiences worldwide, culminating in their 2007 concept album masterpiece, The Stage Names, and spectacular 2011 LP, Far Away. The Stage Names pulses with desperation and exuberance, threatening to burst off the tracks and go wild at any minute. Most of the album is straight rock, “A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene” is set on fire with bouncy bass lines, pounding pianos and distorted guitar chords. Sheff sings with reckless energy, kind of like Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, but without any whininess, leading the band to a rousing chorus. It's not all rock though, “A Girl In Port” is a country guitar ballad that would make 1970s era The Rolling Stones proud. Far Away picks up right where The Stage Names left off; it's a collection of bustling rock songs interspersed with beautiful, softer ballads. This time around, Okkervil River has curbed some of their rough around the edges chaotic energy, making a tighter album. “Rider” is classic Okkervil River, fun-loving country rock with Bruce Springsteen's grandiosity and Sheff's characteristic intensity. “Wake and Be Fine” has orchestral touches with swelling strings and a bit of a theatrical air, never sacrificing Okkervil River's powerful rock hooks. “Piratess” is subtly sinister and moody, recalling fellow Austin indie rock heroes Spoon, with its sexy swagger. Okkervil River are a ballsy group, they take the most basic building blocks of rock, which usually come across as overdone and boring, and transform it into something spectacular. They accomplish this purely by the strength of their songwriting, musicianship and sheer willpower. If you've ever been a fan of guitar music, don't miss these guys.