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Black Sheep Boy

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Audio CD, April 5, 2005
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'The Silver Gymnasium' takes place in 1986 in the small town of Meriden, NH.

Okkervil River bandleader Will Sheff grew up in this isolated hamlet of fewer than 500 residents. His parents taught at a boarding school there. But when he went away to college, his father accepted a new job in Worcester, MA. Will had no reason to return to Meriden again, yet it held sway over his ... Read more in Amazon's Okkervil River Store

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 5, 2005)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Jagjaguwar
  • ASIN: B0007UDCBC
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,933 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Black Sheep Boy
2. For Real
3. In A Radio Song
4. Black
5. Get Big
6. A King And A Queen
7. A Stone
8. The Latest Toughs
9. Song Of Our So-Called Friend
10. So Come Back, I Am Waiting
11. A Glow

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

On Okkervil River’s first Jagjaguwar release, Don’t Fall in Love with Everyone You See, the band included a song entitled "Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas," a kind of re-imagining of Redding’s "I’ve Got Dreams to Remember." On the band’s newest release, they perform a trickier feat, as songwriter Will Sheff takes a lesser-known text — "Black Sheep Boy" by ‘60s folk-pop master Tim Hardin — and spins that short song’s imagery into a phantasmagorical evocation of the title character, including a brief cover and a couple of sprawling, surreal sequels. Black Sheep Boy is Okkervil River’s most ambitious and cinematic record yet, a love story and adult fable that evokes the mature songcraft of Leonard Cohen’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony, the sophistication of Scott Walker’s Scott 4, the shambling slow-motion bravado of Neil Young’s On the Beach, and the raw nerves and trick effects of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers. It also echoes Lou Reed’s Transformer in that it is the band’s most playful and confident record by far, delighting in linguistic games and reveling equally in sheer pop, lacerating rock’n’roll and straight-up country weepers. The most fully realized and wildly adventurous Okkervil River album also introduces such previously foreign elements as children’s keyboards, digitally manipulated field recordings, and dirty splatters of distorted guitar. The longing might be keener, but the fun is funner – somebody has spiked the drinks, and there are at least two bullets in the Russian roulette chamber.

"We will float until we learn how to swim. Yes, that’s an In the Aeroplane Over the Sea reference, and yes, Okkervil River has that sort of mythical genius." – Magnet’s Eighth Best Record of 2003

The band's name comes from an obscure Russian story and the album title comes from a song by fallen '60s folk hero Tim Hardin, but the haunting music here is purely the Austin collective's own. Like tour partners the Decemberists and soul mate Alasdair Roberts, Okkervil River deals primarily in dark string instruments and even darker poetry. "Some nights I thirst for real blood/ For real knives/ For real cries," singer Will Sheff sings on opening track, "For Real," signaling that his appetite for southern gothic muder ballads remains as strong as ever on the group's fourth album. The sinister "So Come Back, I Am Waiting" and "Black" confirm this suspicion. Less country, more Arcade Fire--whatever that means--Black Sheep Boy paradoxically also finds the band at its most commercially ambitious. Here, the slow death rattle of previous releases slowly gives way to explosive choruses and actual gore. --Aidin Vaziri

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 26 customer reviews
Just listen to this song, thats all I can say.
T. Pahnisch
The refreshing part of this album is its straightforward musicality that always manages to hold my interest.
It is one of the best releases, period, this year.
Kevin Satterwhite

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Michael Kluge on September 24, 2005
Format: Audio CD
It opens with a tender strummed guitar and the short anecdotal cover of Tim Hardin's "Black Sheep Boy," Will Sheff's voice perfectly capturing the lonesome, winsome feel of the song. But then...

Okkervil River was one of those obscure bands that no one would ever find without some digging, one of those band that needed, absolutely demanded commercial and critical success but you know would never receive it and drift off into some shadowy part of history, forever forgotten. To forget such an absolute treasure, one of the finest examples of just plain MUSIC in recent years, is to be a fool, plain and simple. This is one of those albums where you'll listen to it and wonder "Why the hell didn't someone try this before???" as you hear some new ingenious bit of chord or vocal or structuring. Even with all the traditional playing and instruments it utilizes, even with the grounded-to-earth folk feel this record sometimes lets on as being, the music as a whole just comes together in such a brilliant, ingenous, road-paving way that you wonder how they could do this with said ingredients.

I've read in a Modest Mouse review that it is the holy grail of artists to forge a unique sound out of rock's traditional instruments. Okkervil River not only manage to form a distinct sound (maybe described as somewhat folky, somewhat indie-rock, somewhat classical) but they pepper it with this all-defining mood of loss, not just of love, but of friendship, which is fairly refreshing. Love plays a strong part, of course, but so does plain friendship, plain and simple being there for someone else, and reconciliation, and it ends up just as compelling as any set of songs about failed relationships, etc.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Satterwhite on April 18, 2005
Format: Audio CD
I too was at the Okkervil River/Decemberists show in Houston, and it's true Okkervil River put on a better show (and that's coming from a huge Decemberists fan). That night openned my eyes to Okkervil River. Previously, I had known them, and liked them somewhat. I liked "Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See", and loved a few tracks from there. While I liked the album, I feel it was a little poorly executed. In some parts instruments were out of tune together, and often Will Sheff's vocals were off key. But it was still a pretty good release.

That's basically the awareness of Okkervil River I went into that show with. After the show I bought their first album.

Fast forward ahead 2 weeks, I pick up "Black Sheep Boy" and subsequently wonder how the **** I didn't pick this up that night instead. This album is really damn good! It's a bit less folk/alt-country then their previous releases, which is actually the only part that bothers me. There is no mandolin! I think some of Okkervil River's best songs feature the mandolin. "West Falls" (my favorite Okkervil song), "Dead Dog Days", "Okkervil River Song", "Seas Too Far To Reach" & "Yellow" all feature the mandolin and are great. That negative aside; One giant emphasis that people should be aware with this album lies with Will Sheff's absolutely brilliant lyrics. If people thought Colin Meloy's storytelling was a high enough precedent for this year, I feel he's now been surpassed...

The best of show is definitely "For Real". Everything about this song is great: the lyrics, the music, the structure and so on. The latter part of the song builds to climatic peak that is just amazing. Seriously, you must hear this song. I love Will Sheff's stories of criminals. They're novel and never really out of line.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Chad Jenkins on May 31, 2005
Format: Audio CD
'Black Sheep Boy' opens with a less than two minute introduction which is a declaration of theme for the album: 'I'm the family's unowned boy'. Every song on the album is an emotional release not directed at anyone in particular. The songs have a common theme of taking back pride and self esteem after being devalued as a human being by society. Vocals are the driving force of the album; they have a certain charisma that grabs you and envelopes you with a strength and purposefulness and a subtle intonation of the fragility and woundedness reflected in the lyrics. The instrumentals are subtle and understated, perfectly complementing the powerful vocals.

The songs are directed at all those who may be viewed as a 'black sheep'; people who are told because they are anxious, socially awkward, or too passive that they're not as good as the beauty queens and alpha males of the world. 'Make a scene, but don't lie on the bed, laid out like you're dead'. Don't let yourself be devalued and succumb to the defeatist philosophy that you can never win. Make a statement, be seen, and don't be taken advantage of. A message of vigilance, directed at the kinds of people who need one.

The lead singer varies between low key, understated singing and loud, intense singing. Because the instrumentation isn't very impressive in itself, the more intense songs are the better ones on the album. 'For Real' has a whisper-to-wail dynamic that concisely expresses the frustration of the song; and is the best song on the album.

This is, basically, a great lo-fi indie release. Any indie fans should buy it.
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