This is a different, bigger album from what I might have expected from O River; more ambitious than ever before, but in my humble opinion it's still nothing on the simplicity of 2007's The Stage Names. For all its ambition, the result is a decent album of indie rock, but in my view not much more than that. There's still something about Okkervil River's vocals that strikes me as kind of Killers-ish. I don't know if that should be read as criticism (I don't mean it to be) but it seems to be something that strikes me more obviously than others I've discussed it with. And perhaps it says something about the ambition of this album.
It is a solid, juggernaut of an album, that kind of relentlessly hammers away at its listener - but it wasn't till track 3 'Rider' that I actually got excited about it. This is quite the charasmatic wee number, its excellent keys and thundering rhythm section give it a kind of anthemic feel. In fact much of this album is characterised by that epic sort of feel - I think it's the big dense choruses and sometimes almost breathless vocals that lend that effect. There's some interesting use of synths, particularly the layered effect in 'Your Past Life as a Blast'.
I've liked this band since first listen, but I fear they may be a bit hit and miss for me. This is definitely an indie rock album; there's very little hint of the alt-folk sound that I loved so much about The Stage Names. It's a good album, but I haven't yet found it to be a great album. There are moment of pure beauty - the opening of 'Show Yourself' has a dreamy Jeff Buckley-esque element to it; and the keys, oboes, and layered strings and vocals through the closing track 'The Rise' are just stunning and give a dream-like conclusion to the album - but there are also parts that I can take or leave.
It's new and dense and darker and heavier than Okkervil River as we know them. It's an interesting listen. I like this band, I like their ambition even if I prefer their earlier style. They write cohesive music with flashes of brilliance. So this album may well be a slow-burner, and it at least deserves another few listens to find out.