Listening to Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy, one gets the sense of passion
missing from much (but not all) chart music. In the same way models in magazine
are airbrushed to perfection traces of "imperfect" individuality
lost in the quest for universal beauty chart hits trade in generalities.
I certainly don't feel like I know who the hell Robbie Williams is after all
these years of earnest ballads and life-affirming hits.
Okkervil River, on the flipside, give their listeners everything of themselves.
Okkervil River are the black sheep boys probably were in high school,
probably still are around the office at their menial day jobs. In the studio,
though, their peculiar, individual sense of themselves is channeled into an unrelenting
flow of musical expression that never consciously emotes. Their music emotes
purely by virtue of its players seeming unable to not get a little worked
up about their insecurities, their lives, their hates. It's music of necessity.
It's like Bright Eyes urgent, personal, pent-up but better; less
focused on the individual ego of the "creative genius," more about the group
The band, like however many others, takes alt-country and runs it through the
indie-rock wringer; the band, unlike however many others, does this with a sense
of dynamics that makes the album's interplay between quiet and loud or soft and
hard work throughout. "For Real," the second song here, fades in with a muted,
acoustic guitar strum and voice before pounding the drums. It brings you up close
to the speaker, commanding attentiveness to what's going on; then the kick-drum
pedal tears a hole right through your goddamn eardrum.
Maybe you're into airbrushed models, maybe you're not. Or maybe you're into passionate music. Then again, maybe not.