Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Okkervil River (2005)

I'd known of Okkervil River for a few years, assuming they were just another alt-country band, and I was long since over that genre. It was probably because they had received some press in No Depression that I was under this misconception, but in 2005 I learned I couldn't have been more wrong. Ironically, it was due to more press that I figured this out. Possibly the most influenced by a record review I've ever been was PopMatters' 2005 review of Black Sheep Boy. I think this is the part that drew me in:

Black Sheep Boy
is rife with insecurities, bad decisions, jealousy, cheating, and the alienation of always trying to force a connection with the wrong people...We feel alone, angry, or sad. We look for love and are rejected. We choose a quick or slow self-destruction. Perhaps there is a redemption, or at least short moments of it.


I instantly knew that I would love this album. It was about me, after all. I'm long since over embracing my own misery (and even that might be a slight exaggeration), but I still can appreciate the tragic comedy of one particular aspect of my life...well, sometimes. And, I'm a sucker for music that makes me think and feel something deep inside, as only subject matter I can relate to is capable of.

Black Sheep Boy hits the nail on the head, from start to finish. But, the beauty and intensity of this album kicks off from the moment Will Sheff creepily sings "Some nights I thirst for real blood, for real knives, for real cries" on the album's second track, and continues to his desperate closing breaths, "I am waiting, you know that I am, calmly waiting to make you my lamb", on the album's second to last song. The two songs these quotes refer to, "For Real" and "So Come Back, I Am Waiting" are both absolutely stunning, the latter being the greatest album ender that, unfortunately, is not the last song on the album.

I recall driving down the Taconic Parkway on my way to Poughkeepsie for a weekend, cranking that song and belting out the lyrics while tears attempted to escape my eyes (some succeeded). I'm not really sure why. That's just the way I am, I guess. Or maybe that song, or this album, reminds me of sometime, or someplace, or somebody...or some combination thereof.

I used that song to close out my 2005 year-end compilation, even if the boys in the band erred in their decision not to. I suppose a few song-sequencing choices would be my only minor complaint with this album. A couple of sentences near the end of the review pretty much sum it up for me:

Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy is a record that stuns on first listen, then manages the elusive—it sinks deep into your soul... If a finer record than Black Sheep Boy is released in 2005, it will be a very, very good year.

A finer album than Black Sheep Boy was not released during 2005, but it was a very, very good year nevertheless. It didn't take long for me to decide that this album would top my year-end list. There was still 5 or 6 months to go, but I still knew it. Although momentarily, on a somewhat delusional day in late December, I considered bumping it in favor of Sufjan Stevens' Illinois...a record certainly worthy of that distinction, but one that didn't come close to meaning as much to me as Okkervil River's did.

I've spent a little time with each of Okkervil River's older albums, and I've liked what I've heard, particularly 2002's Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See and the earlier songs they've played at the two live shows I've seen. Still, this band makes this exclusive list on the strength of just one album. One of these days I'll sit down and attempt the impossible task of ranking my top 50 or 100 albums of all-time. Whether this happens one year from now or 20, I'm pretty certain there will be a place reserved for Black Sheep Boy in the top ten.

1 comment:

  1. That song, "Red"... man I swear he wrote it for me, gives me chills