Okkervil River Black Sheep Boy

[Jagjaguwar; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: country/folk indie, midwestern dirge confessional
Others: Court & Spark, Bright Eyes, Magnolia Electric Co.

Will Sheff specializes in marketable melancholy, much like a certain kid named Conor. Black Sheep Boy is Sheff's band Okkervil River's third full-length, which complements a sizeable discography of musical miscellany produced since the band's first EP dropped in 1998. Ostensibly a dirgey, occasionally waltzy folk-rock outfit, Okkervil River differs from some of their more dyed in the wool contemporaries in both lyrical content and delivery, with an extremely well-developed pop sensibility. Bands like The Court & Spark and, lately, Magnolia Electric Co. are more interested in mining the "authentic country" sound in, let's face it, a pretty imitative way. Black Sheep Boy sees Okkervil River moving further away from the slow-mid tempo (with the staff notation "dejectedly" or "achingly," perhaps) plodders of the pretty-good Down the River of Golden Dreams, really opening things up with some motherfucking guitars.

Album highlights include the two songs you can get for free on the band's website, "For Real" and "Black," which is somewhat misleading as they are probably the disc's most rollicking tunes. Although the rest of the album does not work itself up to quite as much of a froth, it is heavier on quality than most Bright Eyes albums I could name -- both musically and lyrically. Okkervil River don't need a laundry list of guest musicians to get the job done -- guitar, bass, drums, and the occasional well-placed trumpet, all played with plenty of feeling, get the point across sufficiently. And of course, there's Sheff standing in the middle of it, shouting, actually singing like a normal person instead of doing that fey, croony Morrissey impression so many dudes are adopting. So is this weepy stuff? Yeah, basically. But look what we've got: artwork (on both this and the previous LP) by Will Schaff, who in addition to having a name almost identical to Okkervil's singer, did those tight drawings on GY!BE's Lift Yr Skinny Fists. And even if this is country-folk-emo, I'd sure as hell prefer to hear this leaking from the hot freshman in the Taking Back Sunday shirt's earbuds.

1. Black Sheep Boy
2. For Real
3. In a Radio Song
4. Black
5. Get Big
6. A King and a Queen
7. A Stone
8. The Latest Toughs
9. Song of Our So-Called Friend
10. So Come Back, I Am Waiting
11. A Glow