Over the course of their career, Okkervil River has released nine albums that have given front man Will Sheff a reputation as one of the greatest working songwriters in the country. As Sheff and his shifting lineup of players have traveled the world many times over, they’ve made fans ranging from Lou Reed to Barack Obama and been praised by outlets from the New York Times to NPR to Pitchfork, who called Sheff “One of indie rock’s most ambitious thinkers”.
Last year saw Okkervil River’s two-decades-plus trek around the globe captured in A Dream in the Dark, an expansive release anthologizing 20 years of live performance, spanning from pin- drop listening rooms to stadium stages - released on ATO Records.
In addition to his work with Okkervil River, Sheff composes for film and television, has written for the Times, McSweeney’s, Gawker and Rolling Stone, worked as a producer on psych-rock legend Roky Erickson’s critically-acclaimed comeback album True Love Cast Out All Evil, and released his directorial film debut Down Down the Deep River in 2015.
Okkervil River Links: Website
On The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania, Damien Jurado gathers up ten stories of people determined not to be broken by their dire circumstances. “The world is a liar, the stars are a must,” he sings over brushed drums, a circling bassline, and acoustic guitar on “Helena,” which opens his 17th album, the first release from Damien’s own Maraqopa Records. Dire circumstances have long been fixtures of Jurado’s songs, which are filled with ghosts, killers, cruel lovers, and the occasional UFO cult or false messiah. But here, the scenes are earthy, drawn from ordinary but no less immense calamities: hurricanes moving toward town, strained connections, amnesiacs in the front yard. On The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania, Jurado pulls the curtains shut, blocking out “the light now embarrassed and afraid of the dark,” as he sings on “Tom,” one of the album’s haunting numbers, only to throw them open the exact moment sunshine needs to come flooding in.
Jurado has certainly made sparser records than The Monster, but sonically it is among his most exposed, stripping away the cosmic gloss that defined his trio of albums with the late Richard Swift in favor of dry, homespun ambiance. “In a lot of ways, it’s a continuation of the work I did with Swift,” Jurado says. Had the producer not passed away in 2018—he’s been memorialized in a number of Damien’s recent songs—it’s likely the duo would have found themselves drawn in this direction too, Damien suspects, noting that the addition by subtraction approach imbued the new album with a certain quality of “emptiness,” creating the feel of a sort of spiritual karaoke track, tailor made for personal projection. “I wanted to leave space for the listener,” Jurado says.
Known for working fast—he’s usually got a handful of finished albums at the ready at any given time—the compositions here are uncluttered, but not slight, decorated by Beatles-esque bass-lines, drums, and strings.
Damien Jurado Links: Website