Oh the joy of music! I've been bathing myself in some spectacular music lately. It's my pleasure to share this stuff with you.
After ignoring the buzz I finally decided to find them. I couldn't find their stuff in any stores. Then they suddenly appeared in my hand, at the checkout, in my car, on my computer and then in my iPod. I listened. I haven't stopped listening. This is brilliant stuff.
Something odd and wonderful happened on my first run through Black Sheep Boy (MetaCritic). I actually found myself skipping to the next song NOT because I didn't like what I was listening to, but because it was so compelling I had to find out where/if they ran out of amazing tracks. I have little doubt this album will be something that endures. It reminds me of some Wilco and Radiohead experimentation, in a reserved way.
Writing in first-person, Sheff traffics not in plots, but in predicaments full of concrete details and clever wordplay. On "Black", a man despairs to counsel and comfort his lover, who was abducted and possibly abused as a child. "April 12th, with nobody else around; you were outside the house...when he put you in the car," Sheff sings, capturing the character's boiling frustration and romantic abandon. Meanwhile, the band churns a bouncy pop energy, driven by Jonathan Meiburg's keyboards and Zachary Thomas's rubber-ball bass, which pushes and prods him along, intensifying the emotions even as it seems at tonal odds with the dark material. But, as the music makes clear, "Black" is a love song, a statement of determined devotion. (Pitchfork)
A Gothic thread runs through much of Black Sheep Boy, a lyrical fascination with blood and blades and the blackest of emotions. Anger and pain have rarely been so eloquently depicted. The appropriately named song Black has to be one of the catchiest songs ever written about abuse and revenge; Sheff yells: "And I tell you like before, that you should wreck his life the way that he wrecked yours." It's complex track, moving and powerful on a number of levels, full of impotent rage and a rare emotional intelligence. Like so much on this album it rewards repeated listens. (musicOMH)
With Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River have made the kind of minor classic that will inspire obsessive-compulsive love affairs with the lucky people who stumble upon it. There’s not a single terrible track, and the presence of a poignant, unifying storyline takes it more than just a step beyond the band’s peers: Black Sheep Boy dances circles around them. Dynamite, indeed. (Coke Machine Glow)
Please don't miss the Black Sheep Boy Appendix (EP) which is just as striking as a follow-up to BSB.
Their newest, The Stage Names (MetaCritic), doesn't hold the same feel as BSB, but it holds it's own. These songs at first glance sound more upbeat and hopeful than BSB, but their lyrics tell other stories, sometimes painful stories. It's has beauty in the contrast.
Ultimately, The Stage Names shows how a vastly talented "mid-level band" (Sheff's words) sees itself, but there's no bitterness here, just overwhelming self-doubt and perseverance. Despite its density (they fit worlds into just nine songs), the album remains exciting and accessible, albeit highly sobering. It's about the folly of popular music and its attendant lifestyles, but these songs are so good and so moving that they only give us stupid, stubborn hope. (Pitchfork)
And that, maybe, is the secret to why The Stage Names is so good. It's a layered piece of work, its joy on the surface, its bitter, complicated wit buried beneath. No effort is required to enjoy the album. You almost can't help but be swept away by its sheer exuberant force. Yet effort, if you wish to expend it, will pay off, as every listen reveals a new striking line, a skillfully placed flourish. (Dusted)
Wildly alive, majestic and by turns brooding and raucous—often within the same song—The Stage Names burns with all the loneliness and adventure of a never-ending road trip. It makes sense—Okkervil has been touring the country relentlessly for years, and in these nine compact songs, the journey’s raw, frayed edges come to the surface. Will Sheff’s voice keens with emotion and his utter lack of irony is refreshing—it’s nice to hear someone who’s not afraid to fully express how sad the world can be. (Filter)
I pointed to this great video for "For Real" (from Black Sheep Boy in last week's post...
In other news, you need more White Stripes. It's all good. Here's "Seven Nation Army" from Elephant and "Icky Thump" from Icky Thump.
Love The Besnard Lakes. So good. Here's "Agent 13" from Are the Dark Horse.
Lastly, let me leave you with a few interjections...