Okkervil River, formed in Austin, TX, was founded by frontman and songwriter Will Sheff in 1998. The band has produced 8 Studio albums and has toured with other popular folk/indie artists like The Decemberists, The National, and The New Pornographers. Their sound, like any other band, has of course evolved over time, so I’ve laid out the highlights so that you can experience the full spectrum that is Okkervil River.
Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See, the Band’s premiere album, is titled aptly. The majority of the songs deal with heartbreak, self-destructive relationships, and the ubiquitous human need for reciprocal love. The album features a spectrum of instruments ranging from Banjo to Trumpet and Harmonica to Organ (the Banjos and Guitars are a given). The southern roots of the album can easily be heard in songs like “Kansas City” and “Lady Liberty”, while “Westfall” takes a more narrative approach (an approach that later the band would become known for), narrating the dialogue of a psychopath who realizes he is about to brought to justice. Must Hear: “Westfall”
Black Sheep Boy, the band’s third album, is widely considered to be their best. A concept album following the titular character “Black Sheep Boy”, the album opens with a cover of Tim Hardin’s song of the same name. From their the album follows the Black Sheep Boy, alone and searching for his place in the world. Black Sheep Boy has a grungier and darker tone than Okkervil’s previous two albums, in many cases abandoning acoustic guitars for their electric counterparts, though horns are still prominent throughout. Must Hear: “So Come Back, I Am Waiting”
Though some may prefer The Stage Names be included in it’s place, I find that sister-album The Stand Ins does a better job of speaking for the band circa 2008. If Black Sheep Boy is the band in it’s angsty teenage years, still coming to terms with the hard facts of life, the The Stand Ins is the confident college senior, ready to conquer the world. The Stand Ins really showcases the story-telling style of Will Sheff’s songwriting, each song telling it’s own story. Many of the songs on the album deal with the inability to cope with fame or having loved and lost someone famous. I may be biased, as this is the first Okkervil River album I heard, but The Stand Ins remains my favorite to this day. If you only give one of these albums a listen, let it be The Stand Ins. Must Hear: “On Tour With Zykos”
This brings us to Away, Okkervil River’s most recent studio release. I haven’t had the chance to spend as much time with this album as the others, but it definitely signals a change in the band’s direction moving forward. As a whole the album seems to be something of a dirge for the band itself. The opening song of the album is entitled “Okkervil River R.I.P.” and tells the story of a man struggling with the loss of an elderly loved one. It’s worth noting that this album was written by Sheff shortly after his grandfather passed away and several band members moved on to pursue other things. Must Hear: “Okkervil River R.I.P”
If you gave the songs above a listen and like what you heard, I’d encourage you to swing on in and pick up a few of their albums. Bookmans sells music on both CD and Vinyl, so no matter which way you like to Jam out we’ve got you covered. Already a fan of Okkervil River? Share your favorite song with us below in the comments!
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