down the oubliette!
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Okkervil River - "The Latest Toughs". Recently I wrote about "For Real", the lead-off single from Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River's fourth LP. I hadn't yet heard the record, but my hair had been blown back, my heart turned hard and black, from that song. Now, however, the album's in my hands, and I'm even more affected. Black Sheep Boy is a marvel, wider in scope, deeper in sentiment, than anything the band's done before. Whereas I got annoyed at Down the River of Golden Dreams, wishing the non-Sheff parts of the band hadn't been shunted to the side, here they're cooperating like the finest pirate crew off the American east coast. It's a song cycle about a freakshow kid, or maybe the devil, about fear and violence and boldness and inevitability and rebirth. It's folk music and rock 'n roll, it's the fiercest record I've heard this year, and probably the one most intensely felt. Some of it shimmers and shuffles, but a surprising amount of it bursts, explodes, roars. Lots of critics have commented on Sheff's over-abundant voice, but I don't hear any of Bright Eyes' spitting insanity. No - he's quiet in the right places, he sighs and goes numb, he fades to grey, and then when the words crackle, when they flame, he's there putting voice to them.

"The Latest Toughs" is fantastic just because of how pop it is. When the band climbs their hilltop and crunches into the chorus, when the guitars are sunstabbing and the spirits are singing backup in those ridiculous high-pitched voices, when the tambourine shakes and the rhymes are rhyming, it's crazy catchy, it's glad, it's wonderful, it'll shove you over and then pick you right up. It'll punch you in the face and then stitch up the wounds.

(And I didn't even mention the album's artwork! William Schaff has outdone himself. It's a beautiful object - go buy it.)

Cranebuilders - "Public Space". Gloomy indie rock from Liverpool - not gloomy like rain, like Radiohead or Coldplay, but gloomy like Glencoe when the clouds are hanging but not doing anthing, gloomy like Nick Cave or Smog when he's down. Since I don't make things easy for myself, "Public Space" isn't really gloomy, actually - it's one of the lightest things on Sometimes You Hear Through Someone Else. Tommy Roberts has a bit of a growl to his voice, just enough rasp to ground the ethereal harmonies. Chugging to the chorus, things break into a glittering place, a numb-and-dreamy dancefloor narrative, the hook like a hook. I imagine a tired, cathartic dance at the two minute mark, one man alone on the silver floor, drink in hand, trying to let his feelings out. [buy]

Posted by Sean at April 19, 2005 8:37 AM

my thoughts exactly -- oh my word, okkervil river has finally made a pop song. and what a perfect pop song it is, from the garbled whispering in the bridge to the warped backup vocals to the lazy tambourine throw at the end. this song and "black" are possibly my favorites on the album, though "for real" pops up there as well.

Posted by kathryn at April 19, 2005 10:34 AM

This is such a brilliant epic shambles of an album. And yes, Bright Eyes comparisons are perhaps warranted but very limited.

Posted by borrowed tunes at April 19, 2005 11:05 AM

I saw Okkervil River play last month, and they rocked incredibly hard. They started off with this weird ambient stuff that I couldn't personally stand, but once they moved into punk/alt-country/noise it rocked very hard. And LOUD - one of the loudest shows I've been to. Great band, and a great track.

Posted by Jeremy at April 19, 2005 10:36 PM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

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Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

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Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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