The eighth studio long-player from the Will Sheff-led ensemble, Away serves as both a denouement and a commencement for Okkervil River; a string of old beer tickets and a crisp hundred-dollar bill fished out of a retired jean jacket during a basement purge. Written during a period of personal and professional upheaval that included the death of Sheff's beloved grandfather, Away, despite boasting a talented crew of collaborators, feels more like a solo outing than a fussed-over band project -- Sheff sums it up more elliptically as "It's not really an Okkervil River album and it's also my favorite Okkervil River album." Recorded on Long Island with a seasoned posse of N.Y.C.-based indie rock, jazz, and avant-garde players, the nine-track set is by far his loosest and most lyrical to date -- each song was completed in just one or two takes. Opener "Okkervil River R.I.P." sets a melancholy tone, and with the exception of the bouncy "Judey on a Street," that faded postcard patina extends throughout the remaining eight tracks. The gorgeous, psilocybin-mushrooms-expedited "Call Yourself Renee" and the tone poem-ish and aptly named "Days Spent Floating (In the Halfbetween)," the latter composed via an October spent parsing through each morning's first complete thought, see Sheff pushing outward a bit from the erudite confessionalism of the past, but his long-winded conversational lyrics are still as evocative ever -- the lovely "Comes Indiana Through the Smoke" imagines the battleship that Sheff's grandfather served on in WWII returning to him in his final moments. The paucity of any full-on rockers may drive some listeners back to the group's more propulsive, earlier works, but the sullen, sweet, and soulful Away rewards a patient ear. ~ James Christopher Monger
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- Julie Doiron/Okkervil River (Doiron, Julie)