Okkervil River, with the Decemberists

Hundreds of artists have created odes to the black sheep, but no one has depicted the evergreen antihero quite like Okkervil River's Will Sheff, who alternates between sketching him literally (as an untamed beast wandering the wilderness) and voicing the profound alienation that can make any jilted lover feel like a horned freak. Sheff built Okkervil River's recently released concept album Black Sheep Boy around 1960s folk singer Tim Hardin's titular figure. This golden-curled loner, his "family's unowned boy," tells the ladies who flock to him, "If you love me, let me live in peace." Sheff opens the record with an acoustic one-minute rendition of that tune, then segues into a surreal sequel that introduces his version of the character: a woeful fellow who pursues uncaring objects of affection instead of shooing away willing women. Sheff shifts between animalistic imagery (the black-sheep boy leaves "muddy hoofprints") and authentic anguish. "You should wreck his life the way that he wrecked yours," he demands, his voice cracking with righteous rage. For all its star-crossed romantic scenarios, Black Sheep Boy sounds defiantly ragged, with angrily emphatic vocals, aggressively strummed riffs and assertive drumbeats.


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