Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy
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 occasionally echoes Lou Reed’s Transformer in that it is actually the band’s most playful and confident record by far, delighting in linguistic games, scrapping all caution and reserve, reveling equally in sheer pop, lacerating rock and roll, and straight-up country weepers. The most fully-realized and wildly adventurous Okkervil River record yet also introduces into the modern folk bellwether’s traditional palette of mandolin, pump organ, steel guitar, Wurlitzer, strings and horns 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 this time around, too; somebody has spiked the drinks, and there are at least two bullets in the Russian roulette chamber.
Most of the songs for Black Sheep Boy were written by Sheff after he’d moved out of his house to spend all of 2003 on the road, touring for Down the River of Golden Dreams and road-tripping around the country during off weeks. After rehearsing many of the new songs on the road during tours with Califone, John Vanderslice, Azure Ray, CocoRosie, and Clem Snide, the band retreated to an un-air-conditioned Austin, Texas tin roof shed to solidify the arrangements before going into the home studio of Brian Beattie (an ex-member of Austin legends Glass Eye as well as a producer for Daniel Johnston) who also recorded the band’s Jagjaguwar debut Don’t Fall in Love with Everyone You See.