Thursday, January 06, 2011

Five Years Later: Black Sheep Boy

Go check out Spectrum Culture's always-amazing Five Years Later feature for the full list. Go now men and women.

8. Okkervil River
Black Sheep Boy

Black Sheep Boy established Okkervil River as one of indie's most emotionally-wrenching and literate bands, marking both a massive musical and lyrical leap forward for the group and especially frontman Will Sheff. A pseudo-concept album inspired in part by the Tim Hardin song of the same name, Black Sheep Boy wove connected themes and topics together from song to song, an approach the band would later utilize on both The Stage Names and The Stand Ins. It mixed roughly-strewn American indie rock with ballads whose darkness dripped from every line and note; both types still sound remarkable five years later.

The violent and tragic world that unfolds in Black Sheep Boy is still vivid and palpable today, with references to childhood abduction and possible molestation, tragically unrequited love and victims being led "up the hill in chains." Its arrangements are expansive and precise, played out via guitar, brass, strings, keyboards and other instruments, while Sheff's vocals heighten each song's impact. Sometimes he lulls us in gently, his slowly-drawn vocals on "A Stone" paced perfectly as perhaps the album's saddest song unfolds and recedes in lovesick despair. In other places Sheff violently spits out his words, most menacingly on the revenge-and-murder fantasy of "Black" and the explosive last few moments of penultimate track "So Come Back, I Am Waiting."

Whether it's described as an allegory or simply a series of inter-related songs, Black Sheep Boy will likely stand as one of the past decade's most enduring albums. Music can rarely comfortably be described as poetry, but the record is precisely that. The ghosts of poets and porn stars would eventually haunt Okkervil River's later work, but their origins can be found here, in stunning detail. - Eric Dennis

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