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Okkervil River: I Am Very Far (Jagjaguar) 

Will Sheff is operating on a higher plane these days. On Okkervil River's stunning I Am Very Far, Sheff revels in ambiguous and evocative imagery that keeps pace with inspired studio wizardry. In fact, Sheff's recent foray into production—best evidenced on last year's Roky Erickson album—suggests he is adept at crafting oddly fragile, symphonic pop songs.

The opening charge of "The Valley"—with a jangle of sleigh bells interrupted by gunshot snare hits and Sheff's savage outlook ("A slit throat makes a note like a raw winter wind") disrupting everything—sets a precedent.

These are fine tunes on their own, but explore a track like the seductive "Piratess," and you discover its vamping bass groove gives way to torn paper and duct tape, or its cassette solo (yes, as in played on a boombox) is matched by trill guitar pitches.

The swinging "Wake and Be Fine," with its start-stop rhythms and soaring interludes, is the proud accomplishment of a small army of players, as is the lush, glorious "We Need a Myth." On the opposite end, the charming, pastoral whimsy of "Lay of the Last Survivor" and the pristine calm of "Hanging From a Hit" accomplish much through slow burns and subtlety.

Okkervil River has crafted a rare album whose richness never detracts from its enjoyment.

More by Michael Petitti

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