Okkervil River

Black Sheep Boy Appendix

(Jagjaguwar; 2005)

By David Greenwald | 16 November 2005

Oh no! Another conveniently-timed EP release to remind me that Okkervil River:

A) Still exists

B) Did an album like eight months ago that should be on my year-end top ten list

C) Is poor and needs dough to record the next record

D) All of the above

In this case, I’m going with B), but luckily it’s an unnecessary reminder. Black Sheep Boy has held up extraordinarily well this year and rests comfortably in the high perches of my year-end list, at least. Besides, at seven songs and twenty-four minutes, this is obviously more than a mere placeholder. The band’s excellent sense of drama and pacing is in place, flip-flopping from soft to loud on nearly every other song. There are a couple brief, unnecessary instrumentals that make me wish the band had recorded seven full songs, but what Okkervil River provide us with is excellent.

A few tunes reference BSB, though naming this album the Appendix is probably overkill/a BSB year-end reminder. The end of “Black Sheep Boy #4” borrows the guitar part from “Radio Song,” using it to segue into (ha ha, guys) “Another Radio Song.” Much like BSB, the album has its own internal narrative cohesion, with singer Will Sheff referencing several of the other songs with “Last Love Song For Now,” singing “When there’s no key / you’ll find me there,” and “Kids get lost …bigger blacker things come calling,” name-checking “No Key, No Plan,” and “Missing Children,” respectively. With its horns and handclaps, “Last Love Song For Now” veers close to Neutral Milk Hotel territory, but it’s saved by being one of the poppiest songs in the Okkervil catalog. “No Key, No Plan” can claim that distinction as well, and the band sounds loose and ready for anything throughout.

The benefit of a release like this is that’s basically no-pressure – it could suck and people (me) could just use it as an excuse to talk about how great BSB is, but instead we’re left with successful sonic experiments. Take the strings and feedback on the end of “Last Love Song For Now,” for instance, or the foggy drones that open “Missing Children.” “Another Radio Song” finishes with one of the harshest things they’ve ever done in the studio, closing out with Sheff singing four descending notes over and over as the strain on his voice grows with each refrain. This is a much more adventurous collection than the musically traditional BSB, the greatness of which lies in lyrics and solid songwriting.

It’s hard to believe that what should be a tossed-off disc with a handful of outtakes and new tunes is so good, but then, who expected Black Sheep Boy to be one of the best records of the year? The only problem with Black Sheep Boy Appendix is that it should have another five songs and twenty minutes. Let’s hope these songs are what they appear to be, evidence of musical growth that should carry over to the next full-length – and not just a reminder of what they’ve already achieved.