Okkervil River – Sleep and Wake-up Songs EP

Okkervil River
Sleep and Wake-up Songs EP

I found Okkervil River’s new EP a little uncharacteristic on first listen. Expecting the band’s usual brand of country-esque pop and rock, what I heard is a wonderful collection of five quiet songs that suitably fit the first part of the album title. Taking full advantage of the EP format to try something different and out of character, the band, led by singer/songwriter Will Sheff, goes for a quieter, more light tone on Sleep and Wake-up Songs.

The formula on these five songs is a quieter, indie-folk approach. Mostly acoustic guitar and Sheff’s voice, the electric guitar, piano, and drums are used to just the right amount. Think Songs: Ohia and Neil Young for an idea of Okkervil River’s current approach. And the result is five delightfully quiet songs with just the perfect amount of emotion.

On “A Favor,” Sheff evokes Neil Young-style vocals over soft guitar and rich piano tones. As the song builds – with drums and light electric guitar – a heavenly chorus of “I can be anything” repeated ends with Sheff alone singing “But how can I change my body?”, giving the song a bit of unexpected melancholy. “You’re Untied Again” is a more airy pop song with a gentle rhythm and nice acoustic guitar that at times achieves Phil Spector-esque grandiose moments, and “Just Give Me Time” is a softly gentle Iron & Wine-style folk song. “And I Have Seen the World of Dreams” is the song’s truly quiet, slow moment, and “No Hidden Track” has the band’s more common country-esque feel in a more tender and quiet tone.

Even in these songs’ more intense moments, they retain their quiet sensibility. Wonderful songwriting, a brilliant mix of instrumentation, and a nice layering of vocals from Sheff and Minus Story’s Jordan Geiger result in a gloriously produced and recorded effort. I wouldn’t mind at all if this is the approach Sheff intends to take Okkervil River in the future.