Entry: Music to Check Out: Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River 10.23.2006

Okkervil River is one of the bands that I really can't figure out. Usually, if I do some basic research on a band, I can garner enough information to write an article on them....but I don't know. For some reason writing out this band's biography and giving out techinical information about them seems somehow irrelavant to the way their music simply makes me feel. Pretty much it only took one song to convince me that this band was something special. That song would have to be the disturbingly gorgeous "For Real." The opening verse grabbed my attention, even if it did kind of scare the pants off me:

Some nights I thirst for real blood
For real knives
For real cries
And then the flash of steel from real guns
In real life
Really fills my mind

It kind of reminds me of the country death ballad made popular by another alt/rock band, The Violent Femmes when they released "Country Death Song." You know, the track about the father who goes crazy, takes his daughter out to a well and throws her down...then commits suicide in the barn. Accept "For Real" seems to be more about striving to find any way to feel, even if one must resort to violence to do so. I don't think it promotes violence so much as it tries to break us out of their nilhlistic apathy. I know that sometimes it feels like people around me feel that it is better to feel numb than to actually experience real life, which includes pain as much as it does pleasure.

The overall sound of the band lingers somewhere between Wilco's alternative country vibe and Bright Eyes. Add to that the somber menacing elegance of Black Heart Procession. Will Sheff, the band's core songwriter and vocalist also has this fierceness in his voice that really draws you into his dark poetry...but it also has this vulerable charm that warms your heart as effectively as it chills. The songs are mostly acoustic numbers, but the added effects of strings and mandolin (even the occasion horn, like on the track "So Come Back, I'm Waiting) give the songs a heightened emotional effect that stays with you long after the songs end. I know, as an amatuer music journalist, it is good form to include at least a bit of basic information, so I will try to do so.

Okkervil River is currently comprised of five different members: Will Sheff (songwriter), Zach Thomas (he plays the mandolin and bass), Howard Draper (keyboards and lap steel guitar), and and Travis Nelsen (on drums, who also replaced two previous drummers). The original members formed in 1998 after moving to Austin, Texas for college. This could possibly explain the more rootsy feel of their music, but by no means can they be stuck in one specifc genre of the music world. Okkervil River is the title of a short story written by Tatyana Tolstaya and is also an actual river in St. Petersburg, Russia. I can't be quite sure what the title of the short story has to do with the band until I can get ahold of a copy, but I do appreciate the obvious thought they put into choosing the band name. I do get tired of all these cookie cutter names, even if I do like The Killers or The Hives. Okkervil River just flows off the tongue with such beauty, and fits the back-water mystery of their music.

I highly recommend seeking out their album, Black Sheep Boy to get started. If you are more interested in downloading a few tracks to get a basic feel of their music, here a few I'm pretty sure you will enjoy:

For Real, A Glow, Black, In A Radio Song, and A King and Queen


October 30, 2006   08:16 PM PST
yay! You need to do a concert review thingy Aims after the concert. I'm so happy for you! See, things turn right every now and again.

Let me know what you think of Okkervil River when you download a few of their tracks. I think you'd enjoy their music.
October 26, 2006   07:26 PM PDT
Sounds interesting. I'm currently running a search on limewire for some stuff to download.

But yeah, you mentioning Violent Femmes reminded me........ Did I tell you I FINALLY get to see them in January?!!!! Remember years ago when I had tickets to see them and then my sister decided not to go at the last minute? Well, they're at the Big Day Out fest in Jan.

Also, you'll never guess who else is coming herein January.......
ROGER WATERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Tickets go on sale next Friday, wish me luck!! hehehe...

(can you tell I'm excited? hehe)

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