Far away our parents slept in while we watched our fire burn. They dreamed of nothing and got nothing in return. And the water slipped on slowly past our bodies in the weeds, pulling plastic wrap and razors on its current through the reeds. Then I woke up one cold morning, felt an absence at my back, and I searched and stared but only the river stared back.Will Sheff is a modern literary genius. His lyrics are profound and "novelesque" and the stories he tells are heartbreaking and real, even when they exist in some sort of fantasy realm. Fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls seem to be flocking over to the Bright Eyes boat when it comes to "deep" lyrics, and while I respect Conor Oberst I can also confidently say that Will Sheff of Okkervil River is on a different level. He surpasses all of his peers; you name a figure noted for their great lyrics and I can tell you how Will Sheff is better. Colin Meloy? Sheff is more concentrated and more serious. Tim Kasher? Sheff is less of a brooder and his goals and stories stretch farther then a divorce that was half a decade ago. Ben Gibbard? Sheff isn't bittersweet and nostalgic -- he's up front, he's here and now.
Earlier this year, Okkervil River released a concept album entitled Black Sheep Boy. Those who know me personally are aware that Black Sheep Boy is my favorite CD of 2005; so, needless to say, when the followup / B-side EP Black Sheep Boy Appendix was announced, I was pretty excited (pre-ordering the CD, obsessing over the release date, and ogling over the record online all count as pretty excited, right?). I was convinced that the release would end up being better than the CD and I would enter some sort of nirvana or some other form of complete bliss as soon as the sound waves hit my ears. Unfortunately, Appendix doesn't top Black Sheep Boy, but it's still damn good.
The EP starts out with a delicate ballad about the Black Sheep Boy and missing children (a subject visited later on as well). That tune ends quickly and then swells into the first true song of the album, the bass-weighty folk-rocker "No Key, No Plan," which focuses on tossing morals aside and calls the listener to just live their life, centering on lines like: "There's no key, there's no plan; I discovered that. And, truly, I don't think you'll find a happier man," and "You float up high and it isn't a sin. And there isn't a hell where we'll be sent. There's only now, and there isn't then. So just breathe it in." The next song is "Black Sheep Boy #4," which seems to be a story that is a prelude to "Another Radio Song," which is the EP's best track. "Another Radio Song" starts out slow, but by the second verse has turned into a crescendo-heavy thrashing of the Black Sheep Boy and his mannerisms; Sheff sounds incensed as he verbally tears down his own fictional character limb by limb.
On the last track, "Last Love Song for Now," Sheff and Co. close out with drunken gang vocal cheers of "Over and over and over and over again!," perhaps attesting to how much I've been listening to this CD since I got it. Black Sheep Boy Appendix is definitely worth your money, not only if you're a fan of the band but if you're a fan of "indie folk" in general. And if masterful lyrics and genius folk song craft are as important to you as they are to me, then Okkervil River needs to be part of your CD collection.