Will Sheff - Pale Blue Eyes

Photo - Bret Curry
Will Sheff - Enstrangement Zone.

Today, Will Sheff known for leading the critically acclaimed indie-rock stalwarts Okkervil River across nine beloved albums announces ‘Nothing Special’, his debut solo album set for release on 7th October via ATO Records.

While Sheff acknowledges that the album’s title opens him up to some cheap digs from music writers, ‘Nothing Special’ is not mere self-deprecation: it’s a record that wrestles with the dream of rock and roll exceptionalism and the realignment of values necessary to move past youthful delusion and give your day-to-day life a more mature sense of meaning and hope.

Says Sheff, “When I was just a kid, I got caught up in the dream of being a rock and roll star. Like so many other young people, I fell in love with the idea of being called to this glorious path outside of ordinary life. And I ended up in a band with people who felt this same call - especially our brilliant drummer Travis Nelsen, who was like a brother to me. We would trade tales of hilarious antics and outrageous excess and tragic death like they were almost scripture. Travis and I fell out painfully, and he died in the early weeks of lockdown. I think a big part of ‘Nothing Special’ centres around grieving for him, grieving for everything my friends have lost, grieving for the rock and rock and roll myth, and trying to open my eyes to a more transcendent reality.”

Sheff sets this emotional journey to arrangements that contain subtle surprises, referencing baroque pop, blurred-lens synth ballads, sci-fi psychedelia and the widescreen ambience of 1970s and ‘80s ECM Records releases. It’s a record that follows its own idiosyncratic yet intuitive internal logic as we follow Sheff — and his expansive list of collaborators — into whatever’s next for us, both individually and collectively.

Accompanying today’s announcement is a video for ‘Estrangement Zone', a song that sets Sheff’s less-than-hopeful vision of society’s decline to retrofuturistic digital timbres more associated with Oneohtrix Point Never or Boards Of Canada than Okkervil River. Directed by Johnny North and prominently featuring Marcus Paek as a character simply called The Youth, it’s a mystical desert fantasy that’s part ‘Dune’, part ‘Stalker’. Says Sheff: “I think of the ‘Estrangement Zone’ video as a kind of magical spell the crew and I were trying to cast — a parable about endings and beginnings happening simultaneously.”


Photo - Honey Davis Wilkinson
Pale Blue Eyes - Little Gem.

Following the announcement of their debut album Souvenirs, coming out on September 2 via Full Time Hobby (Dana Gavanski, Silverbacks), Devon’s Pale Blue Eyes has today shared a new track from the record. The accompanying video, directed by Dylan Friese-Green and Aubrey Simpson, captures the band on the road, crammed into a Nissan Micra, cruising through the English countryside. Watch it here

Speaking of the track, the band said “Little Gem is about relationships and gardening. We call Lucy [PBE drums and synths] The Emo Gardener. She’d painstakingly cultivate her little greenhouse only to be left distraught when the tomatoes got blight – swearing and weeping by the compost heap. The song is a metaphor for our band's journey. It’s about breaking down, then finding a way around – growing new tunes, cultivating them and sometimes having to start again from scratch.”

Souvenirs was recorded in PBE’s own Penquit Mill studio, just south of Dartmoor, the studio having been funded by a bank loan and endless part-time jobs. PBE are the couple Lucy and Matt Board, crucially aided by Motown-mad bassist Aubrey Simpson. Matt (vocals/guitar) and Lucy (drums/electronics) met at Dartington College of Arts in South Devon, a storied establishment that’s been enlivened over the years by people including Igor Stravinksy, Yul Brynner and John Cage. Lucy’s dissertation was titled “An Investigation into Sheffield's Alternative Music Scene Between 1973 and 1978, with Particular Reference to Cabaret Voltaire.” The PBE album was mixed and mastered by Dean Honer (Eccentronic Research Council, Moonlandingz). Dean has been an integral part of Sheffield's electronic scene and has mixed artists including Róisín Murphy, The Human League and Add N To (X).