On Okkervil Rivers first Jagjaguwar release, Dont 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 Reddings "Ive Got Dreams to Remember." On the bands 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 songs 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 Rivers most ambitious and cinematic record yet, a love story and adult fable that evokes the mature songcraft of Leonard Cohens New Skin for the Old Ceremony, the sophistication of Scott Walkers Scott 4, the shambling slow-motion bravado of Neil Youngs On the Beach, and the raw nerves and trick effects of Big Stars Third/Sister Lovers. It also echoes Lou Reeds Transformer in that it is the bands most playful and confident record by far, delighting in linguistic games and reveling equally in sheer pop, lacerating rocknroll and straight-up country weepers. The most fully realized and wildly adventurous Okkervil River album also introduces such previously foreign elements as childrens 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, thats an In the Aeroplane Over the Sea reference, and yes, Okkervil River has that sort of mythical genius." Magnets 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