Thursday, November 12, 2009

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #42: Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

Let me come right out and say it. I have little to no interest in Bruce Springsteen. He may be good at what he does, but what he does is the most basic version of Rock and Roll I can think of. One could easily argue that Okkervil River is doing the same thing. But I sure as hell wouldn't.

Sure, there's nothing overly groundbreaking in Okkervil River's approach, and this album is not so different from the rest of their catalogue. But you don't need to be innovative when you've got soul. And this is a soul record, pure and simple. The whole point is Will Robison Sheff's vocals. He's not singing directly to you, but he's definitely singing to somebody.

The opening title track is more of an amuse bouche, simply setting the table. When the guitars come crashing in on a syncopated backbeat 40 seconds into "For Real", Sheff immediately starts tugging at his own heartstrings with a full on shout that makes it clear he's putting all of his emotion into this record. It seems that there's nowhere to go after this abrupt punch. Yet somehow by the end of the song, he and the band find another gear.

What follows is a series of nakedness, alternating between quiet moments and emotional crescendos. One can't help wondering when Sheff is going to actually start crying, but he never quite completely indulges himself in his misery. It's the feeling that each song is teetering on the brink of emotional collapse that keeps me coming back to this record. I have the version with the extra bonus songs, which means there's that much more angry or morose passion to enjoy.

It's not a record I often talk about - or one that I even spend much time thinking about. But the songs pop up in my head all the time. I always figured they would get old. But I have come to realize that that's not going to happen. This may not be something wholly new that's going to change the musical world, but it's real as can be. And that gives it some serious legs.

Not the real video - made by a fan in tribute to Sin City.

Not the real video - done by a fan.

Previous Entries:
#43 - Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
#44 - José González - In Our Nature
#45 - Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
#46 - Caribou - Andorra
#47 - Mastodon - Crack the Skye
#48 - Shout Out Louds - Howl Howl Gaff Gaff
#49 - At the Drive-In: Relationship of Command
#50 - Rival Schools: United by Fate

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