For those of you who follow Toe Jam Mondays, you are familiar with my friend Bodden who sometimes shares his vast musical knowledge with us. (See Weezer and Mando Diao posts) Well as usual, Bodden and I were having our weekly music chats and he asked me if I got around to listening to the Okkervil River album he had sent me. He had told me about these guys a while back, but I didn’t give them the attention they deserve so he sent along the album again, telling me it was never too late to appreciate this band. With his reccomendations of top songs, he sent me a characteristically long Bodden email detailing all off the amazingness of each song. I liked the email and album so much that I told him he should share it with the music loving community because I’m sure once it is experienced, it will end up on a lot more “Top 5” lists. Take it away Bodds.

I’m not sure if you tuned into Jimmy Fallon at all this week. But one of the musical guests was Texas Band Okkervil River, led by frontman and songwriter Will Sheff. Okkervil River is gearing up for their upcoming LP – I Am Very Far, coming out May 10, 2011. I’m definitely looking forward to the new album.

Okkervil is definitely one of my favs. In fact, their 2005 release Black Sheep Boy is in my top 5 albums of all time. If I was going to be stranded on a deserted island and was only allowed to bring 5 albums, there’s no doubt I’d be bringing Black Sheep Boy with me. Great music, great albums, and great live.

One of the things that impress me most about Okkervil River are the lyrics. Each song tells a very detailed story. No matter what song or which artist, I’ve always enjoyed reading, learning, and memorizing song lyrics. But of all the artists I’ve listened to I’ve had the hardest time memorizing Okkervil River’s. There’s barely any lyric repetition and most songs don’t follow the simple verse-chorus-verse pattern. In my opinion, Okkervil River front man Will Sheff is a great songwriter and lyrical master!

Although Okkervil River has many great songs, I thought I’d share 5 of my favs.

To appreciate the songs and songwriting, I’d highly recommend following along with the lyrics. I’ve included them below.

I hope you enjoy!

Okkervil River – For Real
[audio:|titles=Okkervil River – For Real]

Album: Black Sheep Boy
Track: For Real

Comment: This was the first Okkervil song I ever heard. It hooked me. Quiet, Loud, Louder, LOUDEST!!!

Some nights I thirst for real blood, for real knives, for real cries. And then the flash of steel from real guns in real life really fills my mind. Then I really miss what really did exist when I held your throat so tight. And I miss the bus as it swerved from us and almost came crashing to its side. Sometimes the blood from real cuts feels real nice when it’s really mine. And if you want it to be real, come over for a night, we can really, really climb, and those blue bridge lights might really burn most bright while we watch that dark lake rise. And if you really want to see what really matters most to me, we can just take a real short drive. Just a drive into the dark stretch, long stretch of night, will really stretch this shaking mind. And this room, unlit, unheated, and the ceiling striped, and the dark black blinds…. I want to know this time if you’re really finally mine. I need to know that you’re not lying, and so I want to see you tried. And I don’t want to hear you say it shouldn’t really be this way, because I like this way just fine. And there’s nothing quite like the blinding light when that curtain’s cast aside, and no attempt is made to explain away the things that really, really, really are behind.

Okkervil River – Black
[audio:|titles=Okkervil River – Black]

Album: Black Sheep Boy
Track: Black

Comment: This is the second Okkervil River song that really grabbed me. Sort of a sad story. I’m pretty sure it’s fictional, but the vocal delivery is pretty convincing. Definitley makes you feel its real and makes you feel pretty sorry for Cynda Moore.

I’m coming into your town. Night is falling to the ground, but I can still see where you loved yourself before he tore it all down. April 12th, with nobody else around; you were outside the house (where’s your mother?), when he put you in the car, when he took you down the road. And I can still see where it was open, the door he slammed closed. It was open, the door he slammed closed. It was open, long ago. But don’t lose me now, don’t lose me now. Though I know that I’m not useful anyhow, just let me stick around while I tell you, like before, you should say his name the way that he said yours. But you don’t want to say his name anymore. Oh, Cynda Moore. Baby daughter on the road, you’re wrapped up warm in daddy’s coat. And I can still see the cigarette’s heat. I can’t believe all that you’re telling me, what is cutting like the smoke through your teeth as you’re telling me “forget it.” But if I could tear his throat, and spill his blood between my jaws, and erase his name out for good, don’t you know that I would? Don’t you realize that I wouldn’t pause, that I would cut him down with my claws if I could have somehow never let that happen? Or I’d call, some black midnight, fuck up his new life where they don’t know what he did, tell his brand-new wife and his second kid. Though I tell you, like before, that you should wreck his life the way that he wrecked yours, you want no part of his life anymore. Oh Cynda Moore, don’t lose me now, let me help you out. Though I know that I can’t help anyhow, when I watch you I’m proud. When I tell you twice before that you should wreck his life the way that he wrecked yours, you want no part of his life anymore. And it’ll never be the way it was before, but I wish that you would let me through that door. Let me through that door, baby.

Okkervil River – Another Radio Song
[audio:|titles=Okkervil River – Another Radio Song]

Album: Black Sheep Boy Appendix
Track: Another Radio Song

Comment: If you enjoy songs that have a nice build up, this is a must. This could be my favourite build up of all time. Goosebumps at 3:26. If you don’t enjoy the part of the song between 2:20-4:00, then I suggest to not even bother listening to the rest of the songs.

Sit back, no song is written, nothing you thought of yourself. It’s just a ghost that came unbidden to this house. This infection gets stronger every year, this seed in the water of your tear, there is no escaping it. The way an unborn baby’s ear unfolds in your belly, this infection gets stronger every year. This direction of a tear rolling down your cheek, there is no escaping it. There is no escaping the thing that is making its home in your radio.
* * *
Bless this tiny alley; we have fallen, from tall buildings we have fallen through the air into a garden sweetly smelling of the softest sleeping flowers (now they sit under the sidewalk, now they’re waiting for the shining of some future sun to show us all that brings you beauty and all that gives you pleasure)’ I could sigh into your hide and say “I hope I’m here forever, but black sheep boy – with your lovers, with your list of favorite pillows, with your list of missing children, with the walls where you drew windows overlooking hidden gardens cut apart by jagged mountains (climbing up into the air and crumbling down into a fountain where the water waits forever, like a quiet, distant treasure) – when you rise up to recover, when you leave this tiny alley, when you meet me in the garden with your horns all hung with cedar, every spirit brushing past me brushing past them in the ether screams ‘all this is window dressing, all you are is flimsy curtains – watch, you flame up with a word from us and don’t know that you’re burning.

Okkervil River – The President’s Dead
[audio:|titles=Okkervil River – The President’s Dead]

Album: Overboard & Down EP
Track: The President’s Dead

Comment: This song contains one of my favourite lyrics of all time (highlighted below). Don’t be turned off by the track’s title. It’s not necessarily recalling the death of a president. Rather recalling a point in time. What were you doing when?

“The President’s dead,” the radio said. Dear friends, is it not so horrible? A shock through my heart like a knife right through bread. The newspaper said “The President’s dead.” The sea doesn’t dry and the sky isn’t split, but, friends, it just seems so wrong, doesn’t it? A shout from the crowd and a shot in the head; the President’s lying on the tarmac dead. He’s lying face down, with those black-dressed agents, guns drawn, running around. And the early obits say he was a good man – you can?t argue with that. Not today you can?t. Not now you can’t. In the media tent where they spin and they slant, they just foam at the mouth and they champ at the bit. Those bloodsuckers can wait. Tell those vultures to cool it. The newscaster said “The President’s dead.” Let’s imagine the way, let’s say thirty years in, how somebody will say, “What were you doing when?” On a beautiful day I was waking up, and I was lying in bed with my girlfriend. And the eggs on the plate, and the bacon hissing, and the coffee was great, and there was spring in the wind. Have you ever lived through a day where the littlest things, in the littlest ways, made you feel you were blessed? And if you died right then, well, you know you’d be missed, but there’s no better state to cease to exist, and you wouldn’t be sad, and you wouldn’t resist, because you knew what you’d had and were thankful for it in your own little way. I’m a small quiet man. I’ve got no wars to win. I don’t have a big plan. But I love my new place, and I love my old friends, and I scrimp and I save, and one day I’ll have kids. I can truthfully say that my day was like that, until the radio playing on the stand by the bed fired out this report, and in three words they said, like three shots to my head, “The President’s dead.”

Okkervil River – John Allyn Smith Sails
[audio:|titles=Okkervil River – John Allyn Smith Sails]

Album: The Stage Names
Track: John Allyn Smith Sails

Comment: I remember the first time I heard this song, I was driving and not totally paying attention to the song. I can recall thinking it sounded sort of boring and I was losing interest. It didn’t sound bad, just not what I was looking for on my drive to work.

Then the song strikes the 2:27 marks and the lyrics start sounding familiar. I know this. But what is it? “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on”.

Woah, this is the Beach Boys. All of the sudden, the song turns into an Okkervil River version of “Sloop John B” off the Beach’s masterpiece Pet Sounds. You have to be kidding me. It sounded amazing. Being a huge Beach Boys fan I’m sure I’m a bit biased, but I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t think it sounds good.

I think I repeated the song about 5 times in a row until I got to work. The song is far from boring.

By the second verse, dear friends, my head will burst and my life will end, so I’d like to start this one off by saying “live! and love!”
I was young and at home in bed, hanging on the words some poem said in ’31; I was impressionable. I was upsettable. I tried to make my breathing stop or my heart beat slow, so when my mom and John came in I would be cold.
From a bridge on Washington Avenue, the year of 1972 broke my bones and skull, and it was memorable. It was half a second in; I was half-way down – do you think I wanted to turn back around and teach a class where you kiss the ass that I’ve exposed to you? And at the funeral, the University cried at three poems they’d present in place of a broken me.
I was breaking in a case of suds at the Brass Rail, a fall-down drunk with his tongue torn out and his balls removed. And I knew that my last lines were gone, while, stupidly, I lingered on. Oh, but wise men know when it’s time to go, and so I should too. And so I fly into the brightest winter sun of this frozen town. I’m stripped down to move on, my friends: I’m gone.
I hear my father fall, and I hear my mother call, and I hear the others all whispering, come home. I’m sorry to go. I loved you all so, but this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.
So hoist up the John B. sail. See how the main sail sets. I’m full in my heart and my head and I want to go home, with a book in each hand, in the way I had planned. I feel so broke up, I want to go home.

As I mentioned earlier, the new album comes out in May, so I’m sure there’s some touring plans in the near future. I highly recommend checking them out and get your hands on a copy of the new album when its released. The live show is a beauty.

I hope you enjoyed the tunes and I would love to know what you think so leave a comment below.

* If you are a member or manager of the above band and you would like your track removed, please contact us and we will swiftly oblige. Fans – new or old – please support these bands by using your coffee money to buy their records.