1. Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar)
2. Chad VanGaalen - Diaper Island (Sub Pop)
3. The Belle Brigade - The Belle Brigade (Reprise Records)
4. Duniven - I Have To Try For Her (self release)
5. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
6. Low - C'mon (Sub Pop)
7. Torches In Trees - Torches EP (self release)
8. Chad VanGaalen - Skelliconnection (Sub Pop)
9. DeVotchKa - 100 Lovers (ANTI)
10. Eastern Conference Champions - Speak-Ahh (RockHampton Records)
I was caught competely off guard by the new album from Okkervil River. I don't know how often I've played a CD 15 times in one week, but that was the case with I Am Very Far. It may also be the best album title of the year. I've seen the band a few times over the years but it was a show two years ago at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery where Will Sheff gave a small scale acoustic performance that was so magical and awe-inspiring that I've been a die-hard fan ever since that night. I read somewhere someone describing him as a lyric writer who writes like a novelist, and I couldn't agree more. His writing is so evocative and richly detailed, (the lyric book is huge) that one can get lost in the swirl of stories that he tells. There are at least four great songs here, starting with the first song, "The Valley" which, if it doesn't make you rock out then you haven't got a pulse, "Rider" "We Need A Myth" and "Show Yourself" has one of the most haunting orchestrations I've heard. Some of the songs are fully orchestrated masterworks which include strings and horns and (here's where I veered from facts and claimed this as a Canadian band, when they are actually, originally from Austin, Texas, but now claim Brooklyn as their home...sorry) Anyway, those are the songs that jumped out right away, and I'm sure I will come to appreciate all of them over the years. This album is a keeper. Whereas I loved the earlier album, The Stage Names, I wasn't all that fond of the last one, The Stand Ins, but I Am Very Far surpasses all their previous efforts. I am now so happy I bought a ticket to see them at The Wiltern on June 23.
Chad VanGaalen had to compete strongly to measure up, but amazingly, I still play Diaper Island all the time too. Unfortunately, he's doing a small tour of the east coast and Canada, and then taking off for Europe for the rest of the summer. Damn! I want to see him again. He'll hopefully hit the west coast in the fall. I'm sure as a Sub Pop artist, they'll want him to play L.A. Again, I'm touting the Canadians, but if you've seen him live, you'll understand why.
Still marvellng over The Belle Brigade album, which is so professional and such a complete cycle of songs, it's just a beautifully put together record. Congratulations to Reprise for having the foresight to sign them. It perfectly captures the energy and proficiency of all their live performances...and their glorious harmonies.
Duniven is currently playing every Monday night at Silver Lake Lounge for Radio Free Silver Lake, and even if he weren't, I would still be listening to his album. It's that good. Solid songwriting, good variety, clean and straighforward instrumentation, in a classic American style featuring some strong two-part harmonies. I can listen to this repeatedly.
Fleet Foxes and Low are two beautiful albums that continue to make a mark as do DeVotchka and Eastern Conference Champions. Torches In Trees EP, Torches, is a stunner and Chad VanGaalen's early, Skelliconnection is new to me, though the video for the song, "Red Hot Drops" is one of the things that got me into him in the first place, like four years ago.