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Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

So Come Back, I Am Waiting

This started out as a Shearwater post, and then after I got Black Sheep Boy, grew into an Okkervil River post as well, and then after poking around Jound.com a bit, it’s just a big ol Will Robinson Sheff respect post.

I think I sampled some Okkervil many moons ago from Said The Gramophone and quite frankly, wasn’t impressed. From what I recall, the fidelity of the recording made Sparklehorse sound like Pink Floyd and the singer’s voice was off-key and raw enough to cause me actual discomfort. I mentally filed it under “thanks but no thanks” and put them out of my mind. Fast forward to May 11, 2005 and seeing Shearwater open for The Mountain Goats. Even if John Darnielle and company hadn’t put on a fantastic show (they did), I would have been quite satisfied – Shearwater really impressed live and on disc (I bought a copy of Shearwater at the show). I was aware of a connection between Shearwater and Okkervil River and since Okkervil’s latest Black Sheep Boy had been getting such good reviews, I ordered me up a copy of that, mostly unheard. And damn if it’s not excellent as well.

With all respect the the members of Okkervil and Shearwater who aren’t Will Sheff, I find the two acts to be somewhat interchangable (based on the one album of each I own) Update: And incorrectly so, apparently. Please refer to Kathryn’s comments below and, um, ignore my shoddy critical analysis. If you were to do a random play of both albums together, it’d still sound cohesive to me – both draw from Americana gothic/folk song traditions but neither are traditional sounding by any means. Sheff’s voice in both is rich, resonant and vulnerable, and perfectly suited to expressing his intricate and evocative lyricism. I’m having trouble figuring out why I couldn’t get into this a couple years ago – it seems like a no-brainer now. Ah well, better late than never. If I have to draw distinctions between the two projects, I’d say Shearwater is a little more delicate and late-night sounding, Okkervil more likely to get up and shout, but both tread a similar musical landscape. I couldn’t imagine liking one but not the other.

Here’s some audio (and video) – the mp3 for “A Makeover” is only 56kbps, but is far and away my favourite track off of Winged Life so I posted it anyway – Sheff’s Jonathan Meiburg’s Sheff’s voice suits the vocal melody so perfectly, it makes my head explode with joy. And representing Okkervil is “For Real”, complete with suitably creepy animated video and making-of feature. The first time I played Black Sheep Boy on my stereo, the big guitar stabs leading into the pre-chorus literally made me jump out of my seat. Played loud through a decent stereo, that will get your attention. There’s scads more media available at the respective band websites. And for reading, Lazy-I has an interview with Sheff in the Okkervil context.

MP3: Okkervil River – “For Real”

MOV: Okkervil River – “For Real”

MOV: Okkervil River – The recording of “For Real”

MP3: Okkervil River – “Black”

MP3: Shearwater – “A Makeover”

MP3: Shearwater – “The World In 1984”

KEXP recently had the band in for a radio session, some of which you can hear here (via Central Village) and more of which you can hear courtesy of Dreams Of Horses.

Between you and me, I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. So why am I finally getting around to finishing it up and publishing it? Okkervil River will be in Toronto at Lee’s Palace on November 7. Tickets $10 in advance. Excited about this one, obvs. It’s all about the topicality, man.

So, Liz Phair, I see you’ll be in town at the Phoenix on October 23. Oh, Liz. What happened? We used to be friends. But the last time we got together at the Guvernment, well that was just awkward. For both of us. I think it was your headset mic, to be honest. What’s up with that?

Torr reports that Idlewild’s Warnings/Promises has had its North American release date – which was supposed to be yesterday – pushed back to September 6. What’s up with that?

np – Bob Dylan / Biograph

By : Frank Yang at 8:26 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Torr says:

    Hopefully it’s so Capitol Records can do some more pre-promotion. They haven’t really done anything yet. Fun fact: their last album, The Remote Part, has sold 28,000 copies in the U.S. to date. Owch.

  2. Chris says:

    Richard Thompson’s website has him playing Trinity/St Pauls on Thurs Oct 20. It’s a bumper crop in Oct.

  3. Frank says:

    sweet. Oh man that’s going to be an expensive month, to say nothing of exhausting.

  4. SEan says:

    I hum with envy at the Toronto Okkervil River show. How many years did it take for them to come to Canada — and now I’m in Scotland? Garr growl hiss.

    (But, in related [hush-hush] news, guess which mp3blog will have a guest-blog from Mr Sheff himself, later this month? Oh yes!)

  5. timothy says:

    i like to think that feedback at the beginning of "for real" is a subtle warning. but my eyes went wide the first time too.

    have you heard "down the river of broken dreams yet"?

    http://…/

  6. Alpha says:

    May I ask where you got that Okkervil River tour information? I’d like to see if they are hitting Western Canada. IIRC, their last Vancouver show got cancelled due to Decemberists’ gear trouble.

  7. Frank says:

    sean – I hope he’s guest-blogging my site cause dammit I could use a day off.

    timothy – it’s on my shopping list. I’m making a sweep of some of the local shops tonight.

    alpha – it came from the Toronto booking agent. east coast dates are starting to trickle out but I’ve not seen anything official or comprehensive yet.

  8. tyrone says:

    does anyone else find that Okkervil River sound alot like a mainstream cleaned up Tim Kasher/Good Life/Cursive style project? except with dumber lyrics?

  9. kathryn says:

    frank, glad to hear you are enjoying both bands. i’d say the biggest difference between shearwater and okkervil is that the majority of shearwater’s songs are written/sung by jonathan meiburg, who does back-up vocals/keyboards/accordion for okkervil river. jonathan has the choir-boy-esque voice. nearly all of okkervil’s songs feature will sheff on lead vocals, and will’s voice is definitely more raw.

    the last shearwater tour with the mountain goats tour actually coincided with okkervil river’s tour with earlimart, so will wasn’t playing those shows. by the way, i prefer okkervil river’s "don’t fall in love with everyone you see" to "down the river of golden dreams." oh, and their first album, "stars too small to use," is pretty hard to find. get in touch with me if you want more information…

  10. Frank says:

    …so wait, did I totally cock up who I think I hear doing vocals in the different projects? I didn’t go through liner notes or anything, but I thought they sounded similar enough to be the same guy, just using different ranges of his voice. Oops.

    Huh. Fact checking. I should really look into it.

    Attention: please disregard anything factually incorrect in this post, which might well be all of it. The MP3s are still good, though…

  11. kathryn says:

    well, actually, "a makeover" is indeed sung by will. "the world in 1984" is a jonathan song. offhand, i think the tracks on winged life sung by him as "a makeover," "my good deed," and "wedding bells…" so close but not quite! tricky.

  12. Frank says:

    goddammit!

  13. kathryn says:

    by which i meant: offhand, i think the tracks on winged life sung by WILL are "a makeover," "my good deed," and "wedding bells…" the rest are jonathan songs.

    don’t worry. easy mistake to make. particularly because both bands often have a revolving cast of characters dependent on who can and can’t go on tour at that particular moment.

  14. Maggie says:

    It’s official. Addressing people you’re writing about directly = hilarity. I hope you’ll do it more often from now on. Then again, maybe less is more.