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Will Sheff and Okkervil River
After nine critically acclaimed albums, after twenty bandmates, after countless bars and clubs and theaters and festivals, after two full decades, Will Sheff is letting Okkervil River drift out to sea with Nothing Special, a rich and cinematic collection that marks the acclaimed indie songwriter’s first release under his own name. Written through a period of painful loss and deep transformation and recorded with a mix of old friends and new collaborators (including singer/songwriter Christian Lee Hutson, Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith, and Death Cab For Cutie pianist Zac Rae), the record represents more than just a change in name; it’s an act of liberation and self-determination, an emotionally raw reckoning with grief, identity, and hope that blurs the lines between fiction and autobiography, surrealism and humor, stoicism and a deepening spirituality.
Formed in Austin, TX, Okkervil River embraced both frenetic rock and cerebral complexity as bandmates came and went over its twenty year run, but the group’s north star always remained firmly fixed in Sheff’s emotional vocals and striking lyrics, which could turn even the most seemingly mundane observations into profound philosophical revelations. NPR hailed the New Hampshire native’s “dazzling” way with words, while Pitchfork declared him “one of indie rock’s most ambitious thinkers,” and The New York Times raved that he “writes like a novelist.”
With Nothing Special, Sheff begins his next and most compelling chapter yet.
For musicians Kristin Slipp and Cole Kamen-Green, mmeadows is a means of survival, an outlet to anchor themselves from the currents of life. Fluid and rhythmic, organic and electronic, their singular alt-pop songcraft is the synthesis of complementary talents, mutual trust, and years of partnership. Each brings a distinct background to the sound: Slipp is a current member of Dirty Projectors, with writing and performance credits on their 2020 release 5 EPs. She grew up in Maine, devoting herself to the choir and a true New England-kind of work ethic which has since flourished in New York City’s music community. Kamen-Green has worked with Beyonce, writing and performing horns on Beyonce and Four, as well as projects with Diana Ross, Harry Styles, Laurie Anderson, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Taylor Swift. He came up as a ‘90s kid in lower Manhattan, immersed in the cultures of hip-hop, dance music, and jazz (his uncle is the avant-garde drummer Joey Baron). All the varying hues of their influences now filter into Light Moves Around You, the duo’s full-length debut, a dynamic and deeply-honed collection of pop songs that silence chaos and celebrate the tender acts of making space and taking care.
Several signatures constitute a mmeadows arrangement: Slipp’s elastic voice, an instrument innately expressive and commanding, and the duo’s intuitive, collaborative production style — skittering drum patterns, intricate sound design, and mood-setting synth suites. Kamen-Green’s mainstay is the EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument), which allows brass players to control synthesizers like they would a wind instrument, a subtle breath that gives the group its symphonic flair.
Following the first mmeadows EP pieced together in 2020, their approach to Light Moves Around You was more intentional; they adopted a tighter workflow, recording in a friend’s unfinished farmhouse in upstate New York. As contemporary chaos spiraled around them, the pair found purpose, nexus, and peace in making these songs, a cohesive body of work that unfurls and grooves from the same time and space.
“By Design” presents an observant, elemental tone; interlocked to the horn backed beat, Slipp sings of shorelines, greenways, and the secrets that nature holds, a device to embody her longing for human touch in this age of automation. “You Should Know By Now” flips the script more bluntly, with the
author lobbing lines to an unrequited crush. The title track, an ode to beauty on the brink of disaster, finds Slipp at her most meditative, processing the trauma of 2020 and searching for positive signals in the storm.
Throughout Light Moves Around You, mmeadows play with pacing. Dance-pop lullaby “Baby-by” mirrors the cycle of insomnia; eyelids hang heavy for the verses before bursting open at the propulsive chorus. The clear-eyed balladry of “Working On Me” and “Friendship” gives way to the movement-minded “Testify” and “Fall Asleep.” The latter has all the hallmarks of mmeadows in one: the quiet-loud kinetics, the silky phrasings, and the smoldering hooks, closing on a coda that doubles as the record’s anchoring aspiration: “When you wake all your worries will melt away, fade away.”
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