Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Top 100 Songs of 2011 -- #84: "The Valley" -- Okkervil River

Okkervil River released their best-performing album to-date in 2011 with I Am Very Far, which reached No. 32 on the Billboard 200 chart. It is noted as a departure from their previous two records, opting for an updated sound and lyrical approach.

Nothing on the new album announces this new direction more soundly than its lead track, "The Valley."

The song is a veritable hodgepodge of instrumentation, complemented by Will Sheff's impassioned vocal. There's a lot going on within the song, much of which may not even be noticeable at first listen. But it's all integral to the success and allure of the song, and creates a depth unmatched by most other songs this year.

From "The Valley"'s first monstrous percussion hits, the driving beat of the song is solidified. Sheff presents the imagery of "our friend," our friend who has taken a gunshot to the head and has "fallen in the valley of the rock and roll dead." At first glance at this lyric, one might worry this song is about to become a nuanced take on rock 'n' roll immortality. Very graciously, 'tis not so.

Sheff's lyrics remain a major centerpiece of his band's appeal. In the vein of The Decemberists' Colin Meloy, Sheff's lyrics are highly literary, though Sheff's may be a bit more accessible. One particular line I love: "Like the water loves lapping at the skin of the shore / hear our friend come tapping at the latches on the door." Set to the stomping tempo and instrumentation of the song, Sheff's vocal is heightened.

Add in a plethora of strings, piano and various other instruments spliced into the finished product, and you're golden. IT'S golden. Okkervil River has done better, sure, but on I Am Very Far, you could do worse.

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