I was not a huge fan of Okkervil River before this album. I'd heard 'Down The River Of Golden Dreams' and thought that, whilst Will Sheff wrote outstanding lyrics and the band played musically excellent compositions, the songs were a little too drawn out and lacked any real focus.
This all changed with 'Black Sheep Boy'.
From the instant Will Sheff's vocals speak over a lightly strummed guitar in a highly wonderful version of Tim Hardin's 'Black Sheep Boy' and then the feedback begins 'For Real', I was hooked. OR's penchant for dynamics in sound is highlighted in a number of songs like 'For Real', where Sheff alternates between crooning and shouting his lyrics over distorted guitars and thundering drumming.
However OR don't just rely on dynamics in volume, they alter styles as well. 'Black' is as close to a pop song as they've ever gotten with its bouncy keyboards and post-punk drumming married with distressing lyrics about child kidnapping, whilst 'Get Big' and 'Like A Stone' show an altogether more stripped down sound more in tune with folk.
The album's nadir, however, is the penultimate track 'So Come Back I Am Waiting'. What begins as a sad song builds to an explosive chorus and ends with one of the most heartwrenching outros I've ever heard. When Sheff sings "I'm waiting to make you my lamb" in an almost whisper, I can't help but want to be that lamb.
And this is where the album excels. Every aspect of OR has been raised on this album. The emotional power of the lyrics, the catchy hooks in the music and, overall, the feeling of immesne pleasure you can derive from this album are all combined into making this a cult gem of an album.