Those of us unfortunate enough to be stricken with an inability to see are also those of us fortunate enough to discover the often overlooked power of our auditory senses. Why do we notice sounds at night that go completely overlooked during the day, and get spooked by those normal sounds (walls and tables creaking, pipes rustling) that we couldn't notice less in the sunshine? Have you ever watched a scary movie with the sound off, or noticed your car stereo getting louder as the day grows dimmer? As sight, the most relied upon of all senses, goes, our ears seem to take up the cause to make us aware of our surroundings. More often than not, it is sound and not sight that arouses the most gripping emotional response in our brains.
That said, Okkervil River do a damn good job of conveying emotion, mostly depression and an unforeseen, conflicting, and tortured relationship with vocalist Will Sheff's mother that hints toward some type of unresolved, deeply rooted oedipal conflict. Where Bright Eye's Conor Oberst tends to obnoxiously mope and moan on the mike, Sheff seems to be on the verge of suicide, displaying a cool yet agonizing connection to his tales of adolescent murder and adult heartbreak. Mostly muted and collected, he occasionally breaks into an all-out shout that hints at Oberst-like emotion, yet manages to maintain a restraint that Oberst is incapable of showing.
Playing alt-country like the best Neil Young or Jackson Browne song, the twangy banjos, harmonica, and slide guitar fill in the cracks, acting as bridges between verses or interludes between lyrics, but never taking over. The real star here is Sheff, who stands out most on the classic "Westfall," a disturbingly collected tale about a high schooler, who, along with his best friend, murders a fellow student from a neighboring Christian school. "When I killed her/ it was so easy/ that I wanted to kill her again," he states in a tempered melody, which, when combined with his cool detachment from the narrative, is apt to send shivers into your skull. The crowds and cameras gather round, with all "looking for evil/thinking' they can trace it," however, Sheff reminds the crowd gathering that "evil don't look like anything."
With at least three songs directly referencing "mother," Sheff oddly centers this maternal figure at the center of many songs, displaying emotion from anger at her actions to a blatant want of attention-it is quite apparent that either Sheff can sell his songs like no other, or he's been through some pretty messed up times. This album stands to show that beauty comes from the strangest places.