Thursday, October 21, 2004

Down the River of Golden Dreams Okkervil River

Release Date: 2 Sep., 2003
Review Written: 23 Feb., 2004
Rating: 8.5

Down the River of Golden Dreams begins with a self-professed oldie. Or rather, an emulation of an oldie. The piano-only title track recalls Huck Finn floating down the Mighty Mississippi with Tom by his side. Huck and Tom were escaping: escaping slavery, escaping rules, and escaping the current fashion and time. Likewise, Will Sheff and cohorts have made an album of music that attempts to escape the current fashion and time.

Music has become boringly predictable. Even the unpredictable music is, ironically, boringly predictable. To avoid playing the equally predictable role of music snob, I need to back up a couple sentences and amend myself. Most music has become predictable. And perhaps most music has always been predictable. And maybe this is part of the allure. And maybe I’m sounding like a broken record. My point is: the men of Okkervil River seem aware of the modern-day plights of being in a rock band. They understand that “it’s all been done before” and that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” If this is the case (and there’s strong evidence supporting that it is) one has to be anachronistic to come off as original and different. Okkervil River achieves this anachronism by pooling from widely varied source material.

Down the River of Golden Dreams seems to be equally inspired by the dirty blues of the south, the shoegazing of the 90’s, classic rock and roll, and the current incarnation of bleeding heart indie-rock. By combining these disparate influences (not as disparate as one would think: Robert Johnson ‡ Mick Jagger ‡ Kevin Shields ‡ Conor Oberst.) Anyway, by combining these influences, Sheff and co. have created something that has a timeless feel to it. The music sounds both contemporary and classic.

Another way to create a bit of originality is with lyrics that mean something and have their roots in the basic tenets of humanity. “The Velocity of Saul at the Time of His Conversion” tells of man growing older and facing the idea that his life is stagnant. Near the end, Sheff wails, “And I, feeling older, pull off to the shoulder and wonder, with my head in my hands, should I call my wife and say ‘enough “you and I,”’ enough of ‘the fight,’ enough of ‘prevail’ or ‘walk in the light’?” The lines waver on the fine edge between trite and wise, but, fortunately, make their abode on the pleasant side of the two most of the time.

The problem: Huck and Tom had to go back. They realized what we all know in our heart of hearts: you can’t stay away forever and still have some relevance. Okkervil River, regardless of how they sound, exists here and now. To sell records, to be relevant, they have to live in the here and now. They have made a good album, but not a great album. The greatest albums of music past have been stamped with both a mark of timelessness and a thumbprint that proclaims from whence they came. Taken out of ’77, Never Mind the Bollocks is merely a record of pissed off children. Down the River of Golden Dreams has nothing in it that proclaims it is of this time and important to this time. But it is good listening, and maybe that is what really matters.


Post a Comment

<< Home