If you found yourself somewhat depressed by Okkervil River’s introspective album, ‘Always’, then ‘In the Rainbow Rain’ is the welcome catharsis. Produced by bandleader Will Sheff, and mixed by Shawn Everett (Perfume Genius, The War on Drugs), the new LP is a hopeful and colourful oasis constructed by electrifying guitars, vast synths and glorious backing vocals.
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At least he’s having a nice time. Having come off of being my favourite band of all time with three late-career records that stood as Will Sheff’s best work, Okkervil River have now released a gleeful dud. Am I bothered? I’m bothered by the War on Drugs production, the formless lyrical content and the unyielding schmaltz, yes, but this record is someone else’s, and I can let it slide. This record just belongs to Sheff, a self-serving gem with all the home comforts he needs to get through a few very hard years. The riff to the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” starts playing halfway through the opener to this record, signalling the kind of balmy solipsism that exists when you stay home from the party and listen to the handed-down bits of your record collection.
The music is just awful. Up in the clouds and pantomimic, shrill to the max with widescreen glitz, it’s a heel turn from the absolutely gorgeous ‘Away’, in which Sheff announced his brand new backing band via ‘Astral Weeks’ rebirth. Liking them so much after that wonderful record, he invited them to make ‘In The Rainbow Rain’ with him, giving into a newfound joy and creating songs like “The Dream and the Light”, which sounds like a traffic jam in thunder. Backing vocals, twinkling pianos, skronking sax solos and a multitude of strums make it unparsable. Already inclined to climax loudly whenever he can, all these songs sound like Sheff is just gunning to up the dynamics, bursting at the seams with what they want to tell you. “Love Somebody” doesn’t amp me up because it’s already yelling its sweet nothings in my ear.
Maybe it’s the way Sheff’s writing, though: he claims “Pulled Up The Ribbon” was written because he heard a good melody in his head and let the narrative come later, and the song sounds like the War on Drugs playing an epic RPG, like “Red Eyes” going way, way too hard. These moments, with their ear-piercing synthwork and big band mayhem, are more constricting than they are freeing, their basslines strapping you in like a seatbelt that’s too tight. I’d much rather listen to him give into laying back, as on “Don’t Move Back To L.A.”, where he tells you everything you need to know about his life: Al Stewart is good, Steely Dan were at their best at their simplest and all of the best music was made in the ‘60s by exhaling a big, relieved sigh. I think I'll sit this one out and listen to this.
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- In The Rainbow Rain by Okkervil River
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