December 16, 2005

Okkervil River "Black Sheep Boy Appendix'

Earlier this year, Okkervil River released Black Sheep Boy. For some, it's not merely the band's record, but it's also one of this year's better releases. It's easy to understand why; the melancholy and the darkness of Will Sheff's lyrical approach is greatly enhanced by his haunting--and hauntingly beautiful--singing. The band's accompaniment adds a dark, psychedelic touch to his words, creating a beautifully modern-sounding Southern Gothic record.

Black Sheep Boy Appendix collects several songs recorded during the album sessions but excluded for various reasons. Even though these are outtakes, the songs are still high-quality. Will Sheff is in fine, haunting voice, and his backing band is in touch with the same dark spirits found on Black Sheep Boy; "Missing Children," "Black Sheep Boy" and "Another Radio Song" have the disturbing, macabre quality of an Edward Gorey drawing. "Last Love Song" is an upbeat number, even though it's also quite disturbing in its lyrical imagery. The band's varied musical lineup and arrangements make these songs even better, and the hauntingly brief instrumental segues "A Forest" and "A Garden" (Cure references!) make the record a cohesive trip into darkness and melancholy. The one true shocker here, though, is "No Key, No Plan." It's a balls-out country-rock number that sounds a helluva lot like The Old 97s. Sheff gets all screamy in it, and though it feels quite out of place here...damn, it sounds great!

A lot of hype has surrounded this little Austin band this year--and it's well-deserved. Black Sheep Boy Appendix is a great introduction for those who might not have heard the band before, and it's a great little gift for those already fascinated.

--Joseph Kyle

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