I wasn't very excited for the release of Okkervil River's latest 12", Mermaid. Well, okay, I was very excited. But let's get something straight: If an Okkervil River song doesn't send me into a conniption fit that would make any outside observer think I was having a nervous breakdown so severe that I was a danger to both myself and others, I'm not "very excited". Using that grading scale, I'd say I was "moderately anxious" for the release of Mermaid. A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that, obsessive about the band as I am, I'd heard the title track to Okkervil River's latest 12", before. That didn't make it any less lovely but it did make me slightly bored with the idea that the first "new Okkervil River" I'd heard in almost three years was a song I'd already known quite thoroughly. It's nice to have "Mermaid" on an official release but what has really captivated me about Mermaid is the b-side, "Walked Out On A Line".
"Walked Out On A Line" is a song that first made it's appearance at some of Will Sheff's solo New York shows last year, which, naturally, I swooned over on RFC. Given the questionable quality of the video that was floating around, I never gave the song all that much of a chance, choosing instead to wait until the latest Okkervil River album, I Am Very Far, neared completion on a more cohesive version of "Walked Out On A Line" came into existence for my consumption.
I first heard "Walked Out On A Line" in it's studio incarnation while sitting in my living room, after purchasing it completely legally (Just kidding, my savior Bill Baker, he of much awesomeness, sent it to me. Sharing is caring, kids!) and consuming more than a bit of wine. Immediately, I was in love. Musically, it wasn't what I expected and almost made me worry that the forthcoming I Am Very Far will be more mechanical and psychadelic than organic and singer-songwriter-esque, something that tends to taint music as a whole for me, but... Well, it's Okkervil River. I can't not love it. Out of the band's entire discography, b-sides and rarities included, there is one song I don't like. One. One out of 174. So of course I was fated to love "Mermaid" and it's counterpart, both fraught with cinematic lyrics about "the devil all dinged up and dragonfly winged-up", paried with Sheff's signature vocals, which are at turns pleadingly unhinged and beautifully crooned. What took me aback, however, was what made me actually love "Walked Out On A Line". You see, it wasn't Will Sheff at all. It was Jonathan Meiburg.
Meiburg, for those who don't know, was Sheff's right hand man in Okkervil River for years until he left to concentrate fully on Shearwater, a band originated by Meiburg and Sheff years prior. Meiburg has a remarkably powerful voice, orchestral and ethereal, and even if Shearwater's music isn't your thing, you still have to admit that Meiburg's voice has a soul shaking tone that is the audible equivalent of thunder and lightning. Even so, I never warmed fully to Meiburg until hearing him in Shearwater, maintaining the opinion that his voice just didn't mesh well with Sheff's.
The absence of Meiburg in Okkervil River, however, is noticeable. It's not noticably bad, per se. It's just noticably different. Okkervil River without the accordion skills and lilting background vocals of Meiburg is sort of like going to a family reunion and not seeing your favorite second cousin. Sure, they're just your second cousin so it makes sense they're not there and all your immediate family is there but man, it sure would be nice to see that second cousin and "Walked Out On A Line" is a beautiful example of just what wonder Meiburg brings to the band.
I don't know about you but I could listen to Meiburg yowl about black blood all night.
I Am Very Far comes out May 10th - And you know what else is on the way? An Okkervil River documentary. That's fact. Tell your pals.