Posts Tagged ‘Will Sheff’

Little Known A+ Albums: #2 Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River

William Schaff has done most of Okkervil River's album covers. You should check him out, too.

When I first listened to Okkervil River ’s “Black Sheep Boy” I had to take a step back.  It was like nothing I’d ever heard.  The closest thing to the album is Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea.”  The lyrics create vivid imagery both surreal and seemingly personal, the music builds and overflows with emotion, all the while telling the story of some tragic hero or villain.

.

The album was recorded in 2005 and started out with a cover.  Will Sheff, lead singer and guitarist for Okkervil River , wrote a cover version of the song “Black Sheep Boy”  by Tim Harden.  The lyrics sound like they might be about someone misunderstood and under appreciated:

.

But when it was written in the 1960’s, the song was actually about drug addiction and pleas to be left alone.  It was a cry for no more help.  “If you love me, let me live in peace.”

.

Will Sheff knew this about the song.  The character of the “Black Sheep Boy” inspired many songs that were sequels to the original, and soon Sheff ended up with a concept album in which the Black Sheep Boy was woven in and out.  The songs revolve around a few other characters and in truth some of them are hard to tell apart.  This isn’t as straight forward as…well, I don’t know…Ziggy Stardust, I guess.  It’s very surreal and is very hard to figure out at times.  What is easy to tell is when a song is through the perspective of the Black Sheep Boy himself.  The song “For Real” for example:

.

The whole album isn’t from this psychotic perspective.  The album actually holds two of the best love songs I’ve ever heard: “A King and Queen” and “Song of Our So-Called Friend.”

.

There are two characters, a man and a woman, and I think the woman is in love with the Black Sheep Boy, and the man is trying to win her over for himself.  In “Song of Our So-Called Friend” the man makes his last attempt.  It’s a sad song, but it’s beautifully written.

The album is very vivid.  Because of the singing style of Will Sheff the raw emotion of the characters and the disappointment of the love songs really sting you.  On the talent of the band to build with the action of these images and feelings, the listener is forced to experience the album from beginning to end.  I know people who have cried listening to this album.  It feels more like a musical or opera at times.

.

I want to go into greater detail about each song, because every one is just phenomenal.  I’ll end by talking about just one more.  “Black” is a song in which one character is being told about how she was molested as a child.  Will Sheff’s lyrics revolve around the male’s perspective; He wants to go kill the guy who did this to her, but she wants to put it all behind her.  One of my favorite lyrics are in this song:

.

“And I can still see the cigarette’s heat.  I can’t believe all that you’re telling me, what is cutting like the smoke through your teeth as you’re telling me “Forget it.”  But if I could tear his throat and spill his blood between my jaws, and erase his name for good, don’t you know that I would?  Don’t you realize that I wouldn’t pause?  That I would cut him down with my claws if I could have somehow never let that happen?  Or I’d call, some black midnight, fuck up his new life where they don’t know what he did.  Tell his brand new wife and second kid.  Though I tell, you like before, you should wreak his life the way that he wreaked yours, you want no part of his life anymore.”

.

Okkervil River ’s “Black Sheep Boy” is available in two versions.  There is the original version which you can get on Amazon.com used for $9.99.  Then there is a two disk extended version which features the unreleased recordings from the album which were labeled “Black Sheep Boy Appendix.”  This double set will cost you $8.97 used on Amazon.com.

.

You do the math.  Thursday’s review will be the final in the set of ten.  Thanks for reading!

Advertisements