the brightest scream
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.


Hi everyone - thanks for all the feedback, the kind words, and the various statements in support of, and opposition against, the Scots. It's wonderful to know that you're reading - whether or not you liked the new Mase track. Sorry about the holiday, but I now have the right to wear a mortarboard hat in public.

As promised, today's music comes mostly from the tour-only split EP that Okkervil River and Shearwater have been carrying with them on their trip across the USA. It's called Hoax Funeral/Sham Wedding. Some of us (like me) live in cities not not lucky enough to be on the bands' itinerary. And yet some of us (like me) have friends (like Ian James) who will still pass things our way, even when the band refuses to sell the CD by mail-order.

As I've said before, Okkervil River is one of the very best bands in America today. Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See is a marvel of noisy, riverside folk - macabre love-songs and blasted murder ballads. "Okkervil River Song" is one of the very finest alt.folk songs ever recorded - I'd share it with you but, uh, I already did. Last year's album Down the River of Golden Dreams is good too - rushing chamber folk with grey-eyed lyrics. You should buy them.

Okkervil River - "Moonshiner". One of several traditionals on the Hoax Funeral/Sham Wedding split, as heard on records by Uncle Tupelo and Cat Power. The song bumps and clatters, staggering on aching legs down a dirt road and into the brush. No need for dramatics from Will Sheff: the story's an old one, familiar to all, full of misguided hope and a tired enthusiasm. It's in the repeated squeezebox theme that the song shows this exhausted side, the worn creases at the sides of the moonshiner's smile, the wrinkles from decades of waiting.

Shearwater - "Mountain Laurel". Jonathan Meiburg sings high over mandolin and acoustic guitar, then the drums tumble in and - with the violin that sounds like electric guitar - a blackyellow bird darts out of the sky. Like chamber pop with a particularly serious Hawksley Workman, David Bowie in a Kentucky rainstorm. ("Trouble in Mind" is also a great track - Sheff with acoustic guitar, a simplesad thing.)

And then because I didn't feel I wanted to leave things quite so spare, here's a song I wrote about back before Said the Gramophone was full of mp3s, an Okkervil River rarity that's among the best things they've done.

Okkervil River - "The Blackest Coat" This song starts wrong. There's a monotonous back and forth between bass and high-hat, Will Sheff's voice a little sharp, or flat, or something. It's not quite right, even with the gentle picking of acoustic guitar, the big round images. When the wurlitzer appears at that first chorus, things still feel slightly off-center. Everything's a half-step away from beauty.

But the magical thing that the band does is that it stays there. It circles that beautiful nut, it eyes it, but it stays on its side of the veil, where things are not quite right. It catches glimpses of the beauty in shadow. We grow used to this.

Suddenly - at precisely 4:11, - the curtain lifts, the disco-ball begins to spin, stars dapple the walls, and there it is. The fiddle is playing on beams of light, on friends' long glances across the room, on snowfall in an open doorway. As I said last August, it's "a juddering opening-up," a musical place that elicits, for me, an almost physical reaction. Everything's standing on the edge of a precipice, imagining the downward hurtle, the wind-whipping and blood-rushing and bone-crashing. It's a "loud-yelling-crashing victory finale". And then it takes a breath, it shakes its head, and steps away (or through?). (From last year's split EP with Julie Doiron.) [buy]

Posted by Sean at June 3, 2004 1:41 AM

Wow, the Okkervil River cover of Moonshiner is NOTHING like I expected. It's all twisted, and for a second I thought I had two copies of the song playing at the same time. It's so jangly, like they totally got all drunk and recorded it. Damn, I think the Bjork cover on that split would probably scare the shit out of me if I heard it now :D

Personally, my favorite Okkervil River song has been Westfall. It's one of the more louder tracks on that album, and keep everything up enough to keep my attention. I had some problems with the newer album; it bored me because I felt it dragged on it. I mean, it's still good, but I really don't think it kicked as much ass as Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See.

Oh, and the first time I heard the remake of He Passed Number Thirty-Three, I literally had it on repeat for a whole day. It made my day... hell, it made my week!

Posted by rojazz at June 3, 2004 3:44 AM

I know I just joined the class too late but do you think you could have a little catch up blog on the side. I wish I had Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See and some Timbaland but ...
it's too late

Posted by Annette at June 3, 2004 7:26 AM

"Okkervil River Song" is one of the very finest alt.folk songs ever recorded.

indeed. my favorite memory of sxsw 2004 is standing in a room full of crowded austinites, all screaming the words, as the band played this song at the end of their set, with will sheff crashing into the drum kit in a fit of punk rock fury.

word has it on the street that okkervil river will spend some time in the studio recording a new album in the summer (they were playing some new songs on this last tour). and shearwater will go back on tour once more this year before jonathan takes off for some island or other to observe birds.

Posted by kathryn at June 3, 2004 11:53 AM

Wow, "The Blackest Coat" is really, really good. For me it's a little after 4:11 when it takes hold and starts to shake you.

Posted by caley at June 3, 2004 12:59 PM

Goddamn. No one does resignation quite like Okkervil River. That Moonshiner cover sounded triumphant compared to Cat Power and Uncle Tupelo. Thanks.

"Down the River of Broken Dreams" was my favorite album last year, and damn if they don't keep making me shake my head. I gotta see them live.

Posted by chris at June 3, 2004 1:34 PM


Posted by Drawer at June 3, 2004 5:02 PM

thanks for the loveliness, sean.

Posted by Monica at June 3, 2004 8:23 PM

Thanks for posting this. Everyone with any interest in modern music needs to hear these two bands

Posted by Mike at June 3, 2004 9:34 PM

The originals all impressed me, but their take on Moonshiner really managed to suck the soul out of that (wonderful!) song. If there's one thing Monoshiner should never be, it's sprightly.

Posted by Paul at June 3, 2004 10:03 PM

good show sean.

OK. River are fantastic and deserve more attention than they get. maybe when Wilco implode (it is inevitable you know) they can grab some from them....

Posted by scandal face at June 3, 2004 10:20 PM

Wow... 'The Blackest Coat' is awesome. Thanks for putting it up. I like your description of a "juddering opening-up."
Guess what I got in the mail today: Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation. Why? I signed a guy name Joe up for Gmail. Thank Gmail Swap. And thank you Sean.

Posted by JKelly at June 3, 2004 11:29 PM

Kathryn - my jealous knows no bounds. I am almost overcome with sadness when I think that I may never hear Okkervil River in person. They've got no plans to come up here this summer, and in the fall I will be moving far, far away.

I am delighted, though, to see all the Okkervil River love. For those of you who don't really know them, RUN and BUY those records. For those of you who do know them, well, put them on!

re "Moonshiner". I think there's room in the world for both - and that the wounded 'triumph' of the OR version wouldn't have legs without those, well, wounds... Our memories of those other, aching renditions.

Sorry I didn't nip in here sooner to answer comments... now they've piled up and I'm overwhelmed. :(

Kelly - that's a wonderful swap. Almost as pretentious, too, as the fellow I handed an invitation to in exchange for "knowledge of semiotics". Huzzah for we, the hyperreal!

Posted by Sean at June 4, 2004 2:00 AM

Where did this Shearwater song come from? I just saw them play it last week and was blown away by this song in particular, but I didn't know it had been recorded.

Posted by nhennies at June 4, 2004 9:21 AM

oops, i'm an idiot. i see it came from the tour EP. Strange, they weren't selling it in Austin at the last show of their tour.

Posted by nhennies at June 4, 2004 9:22 AM

Love "The Blackest Coat", though for about a minute or so there I detect some similarities in style to "Table for Glasses" by Jimmy Eat World. Anyone else?

Oh, how I wish I still lived near Austin. I've been missing so many good shows, Okkervil River included.

Posted by Adam at June 4, 2004 12:49 PM

whoops, i was slightly wrong. jonathan leaves for the galapogos islands today, next tours tenatively planned for the fall.

Posted by kathryn at June 7, 2004 11:39 AM

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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.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

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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