Mainly Genius

Review: Roky Erickson & Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil

Okkervil River are a great band. As a fan for a couple of years now, it’s always exciting when they release new material.

Their 2005 album Black Sheep Boy is a prime example of their quirky, twisted pop-rock sound and is rightly considered their masterpiece. Songs such as The Latest Toughs and For Real conjure real interest with their slightly left-of-centre lyrics and almost lo-fi production. Even slower numbers such as So Come Back, I Am Waiting and A Stone has a primal element amongst the grace and sadness that only adds to the power of the song.

As you can see from my little mini-review, I’m a fan of Okkervil River. However, I was more than a little surprised to see that their latest venture was in collaboration with aging psychedelic rocker Roky Erickson. I mentioned in my post about this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas (from where both artists hail), that they could be an interesting combination and one that I boldly predicted will really hold their own. Erickson’s heartfelt lyrics should sit well with Okkervil River’s quirky, lo-fi but ultimately pop-based instrumental qualities, I said.
But now I’ve finally come into possession of True Love Cast Out All Evil, the album that came from this newly formed group, I’m not so sure.

It starts with the Okkervil River boys firmly in control. Along with closing track God is Everywhere, album opener Devotional Number One is one of those kind-of-arty, deliberately lo-fi tracks and has all the hallmarks of the band. However, odd chord changes and deliberately poor sound quality might work on an Okkervil River record, but doesn’t really highlight the strength’s that lie in Erickson’s fragile voice, only serving to be unnecessarily harsh and slightly irritating.
And it’s a theme that doesn’t just lie at either end of the album either. Whilst there may not be much more lo-fi sounds, songs such as Birds’d Crashed and Be and Bring Me Home still seem forced and at times overcomplicated. Be and Bring Me Home stands out as a track that has been to far removed from Erickson’s country style and this results in a song that sounds to much like Okkervil River for it’s own good. Again, as a stand-alone Okkervil River track, it works. But Erickson strains to hard to fit in and overall just doesn’t blend.

However, all is not lost. Not by a long way.

The title track is a prime example of when the collaboration does work. Along with Goodbye Sweet Dreams, it becomes less obvious that it’s Okkervil River leading the way and sounds much more like a group working together. Erickson’s interesting and dark lyrics are cast in a new light, whilst his voice is given a different life thanks to the clever use of guitar sounds. Please Judge is a heartfelt plea to justice and Bring Back The Past is upbeat and pop-inflected tune that really would’ve sounded great at SXSW 2010.
However, it’s Forever that’s the highlight. There is some over-complication that occasionally creeps in to , but the quality of the song and the ethereal sense that it has trump any doubts. Starting with a slow acoustic guitar, it slowly builds into a track thats not unlike The Flaming Lips circa The Soft Bulletin. Guitars dart all across the musical spectrum, an organ underpins the pounding and relentless drum pattern and Erickson’s finest hour comes as the song builds into a marvelous finish.

So all in all, True Love Cast Out All Evil was a touch underwhelming. Maybe I should’ve expected a little less with something that’s only part Okkervil River, but their musical history is littered with brilliance that’s hard to ignore. The album feels as though it was a bit rushed and contains an unsettling air of insecurity. Overall it’s good, but not great. Exciting, but not for to long.
However, I must stress that if you get the chance, True Love Cast Out All Evil is worth checking out despite my negativity. Tracks such as Forever, Goodbye Sweet Dreams and Bring Back The Past are gems and make the album a worthwhile buy.
With time, Roky Erickson & Okkervil River will improve and the songs will go with that. All the right elements are present but perhaps not in the right order just yet. Understandably, fans of Okkervil River might be a little unsure as would those of Roky Erikson, but I’ve no doubt that this collaboration will win many more fans for both artists and for them as a group, than it alienates. I look forward to the next installment in as much hope as excitement.

Visit Roky Erickson & Okkervil River and get the album.
Visit Okkervil River (and get the brilliant Black Sheep Boy)
Visit Roky Erickson

Below is Goodbye Sweet Dreams and album highlight Forever. Both are excellent examples of when the combination of Okkervil River and Roky Erickson really does work. Dark and melodic, both tracks are worth a listen.

Roky Erickson & Okkervil River – Forever

Roky Erickson & Okkervil River – Goodbye Sweet Dreams


2 Comments so far
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“However, I was more than a little surprised to see that their latest venture was in collaboration with aging country rock star Roky Erickson…” LOL, Roky Erickson is not “country rock,” he’s famous for his psychedelic rock.

Comment by suzanne

Well I’ll admit that perhaps country rock was a loose term to use, but it still strikes me as an unusual combination (despite the texan links between the artists).

Okkervil River aren’t by any stretch psychedelic and many of the tracks on the album have real American, country feel to them. But yes, Erickson is perhaps not country and I shall amend as appropriate.

Comment by mainlygenius

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