Reviewed by Michael Chamy, Fri., Jan. 25, 2002
Okkervil RiverDon't Fall in Love With Everyone You See
(Jagjaguwar) Like Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Okkervil River's sophomore LP launches immediately into a coming-of-age story, balancing poetic lines with an undeniable emotional investment that sustains itself over the course of the entire album. Okkervil River and frontman Will Sheff are inspired, as is NHM's Jeff Magnum, by the folk tradition of telling a story by song. Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See, the Austin fourpiece's first effort for Bloomington, Ind., indie Jagjaguwar, represents a quantum leap forward. Opener "Red" is a strummed tale of emotional ruin and a mother's pain. The pedal steel and harmonica of "Kansas City" form the sad, twangy shuffle that have won the band comparisons to Will Oldham's Palace. Like his fellow Will, Sheff goes full-tilt at all times, infusing each word, each phrase with a splash from the cauldron of passion lurking beneath. At key moments, that passion bubbles over and Okkervil River hits full stride. "Westfall" is a tale of high school murder, beautifully spiked by Zach Thomas' mandolin, and is also the band's biggest-sounding song thanks in part to the veteran production of Brian Beattie (ex-Glass Eye). Beattie brings in old pal Daniel Johnston for a memorable duet on "Happy Hearts," like the rest of the album equally giving of trust and sincerity and suspicious of its reciprocation. As fine as it opens, Don't Fall in Love finishes up even stronger, with "Okkervil River Song," an accordion-fed instant classic about the Northeastern countryside that lingers in the air long after the last of the recorded bird chirps that cap this fine collection.