I've known about Okkervil River for awhile, but until now, I've been unable to listen to them. It's not because I hate their politics, or because they were playing when my girlfriend dumped me, or because the singer kicked my dog. No, it's because... well, it's because their name looks like it should have umlauts in it. Something like Ökkervil Rïver, maybe.
Okkervil River is not the kind of band that puts unnecessary umlauts in their name. As far as I can tell, the singer doesn't wear assless leather chaps and they haven't written any songs with titles like "Stick It To Ya" or "Sweet Teezer."
Unfortunately, they've almost gone too far in the opposite direction. The songs are sweet and sad and smart and clever and charming and well-produced, just like a sensitive guy who wears black turtlenecks and quotes Dostoevsky at parties. Frankly, Okkervil River could benefit from feeling a breeze blow across their exposed butt cheeks. Okkervil River could maybe use an umlaut or two.
At its best, Black Sheep Boy sounds like Bright Eyes; at its worst, it sounds like Robert Smith doing a guest spot with Bright Eyes. Overall, the lyrics are well-written, and they possess a sense of rhythm and rhyme that most lyricists never achieve. Songwriter Will Sheff's intelligence and/or thesaurus occasionally cloud his better judgment, though, and he sneaks in words like abecedarian and oubliette -- something that will charm overwrought English Lit students and annoy the rest of us.
William Schaff and Darius Van Arman did a superb job on the artwork and design, respectively. The images are intriguing, and they're an important part of a comprehensive package. The text is easy to read, and the layout clearly conveys that these aren't just random words. From a practical perspective, the contrast between the text and the paper makes the booklet a bit difficult to read, but from an aesthetic perspective, it's obvious why Van Arman choose these colors. It was a wise decision not to clutter up the package with a bunch of band photos.
Listen if you like: Bright Eyes fans should definitely check this out, because it's playing the same game without being completely derivative.
If it were food, it'd be: A lonely beer late at night with tears of sweat trickling down its sides that reflect the streaks that bleed beneath your watery eyes as you realize she will never be here to share this lonely beer.