And I really miss what really did exist

Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River

I've heard of Okkervil River for years, but it was just one of those bands that I knew everyone liked but I personally didn't actually see any need to listen to. After a decade of listening to guitar-heavy music from the 90s, by the mid-Noughties I was ready for something different — primarily anything with less guitars. And so Okkervil River was brushed aside.

And by now, I believe that we're all tired of me complaining about the television, about the everyday sounds of living (perhaps you'd rather live in a mausoleum, Amanda). I think that I've finally accepted the only real solution: stay up all night listening to music. Not that I don't already do this already, but I will have to attempt it with the disadvantage of not being able to look up lyrics or having my friends from Pitchfork, Sputnikmusic, and Popmatters helping me along.

Stay up I did, and thankfully so. I finally laid down and listen to Okkervil River, initially like a paralyzed person with no other choice, but quickly won over by Sheff's concept (about a black sheep boy, surprisingly).

While Black Sheep Boy doesn't read like a storybook or even follow a plot, the concept album nonetheless presents a very compelling character, who is simultaneously dark and sentimental. In "For Real", Sheff angrily sings of his thirst for blood; "In A Radio Song" finds Sheff singing "We're fucked, we're fucked, we're fucked" and commanding us to sing along. Towards the core of the album, however, the black sheep boy reveals his more sentimental side, with songs like "A King and A Queen" and "A Stone", using images of castles and fairytales (though he'll still admit that he's "going fucking insane"). 

I'm not sure how well people would relate to a song about transforming into a ram; however, the sheer humanness of the lyrics makes these songs worth listening. Emotionally Sheff ranges from sheer madness to resignation, sadness, and heartbreak. He writes compellingly of unrequited love, of a girl too preoccupied in loving a "stone" (my favorite depiction of this in the lines: "And I think that I know the bitter dismay of a lover who brought/fresh bouquets every day/when she turned him away/to remember some knave/who once just one rose, one day, years ago"). In "For Real" Sheff explores our insulation from reality and our subsequent fixation with it.

If concept albums aren't really your cup of tea, it's easy enough to love Black Sheep Boy for its beautiful melodies, its heartwarming sentimentality, its invigorating and compelling madness, and above all the joy of a band hitting its stride.


amda said...

yaayy I got the m-dash downnn!

Clemente said...

Heheh, "guitar-heavy music from the 90s". I think I might just know what you are referring to.