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CD Review: Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy Appendix

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Black Sheep Boy Appendix works like a distilled, alternative version of one of 2005’s most acclaimed albums, Black Sheep Boy. Rather than serve as a mere EP of alternate takes, it’s a mini-concept album that may prove to be the perfect introduction to its predecessor for all those that missed out on it the first time around.

Opening on a dark, strangely alluring lullaby sequence, Will Sheff’s literary skill traces the steps of a group of children drawn into the woods, cartoonish stars twinkling above as if the beginning of an epic fairytale. While Sheff’s Eels-like delivery is questionable, the scene is brilliantly vivid and storybook-like, his gift for words turning the pages for you. “No Key, No Plan,” on the other hand, could be about absolutely anything; racing away with a carefree swing (and also a different style of vocal), it effectively cleans the palate before a gorgeous ribbon of strings takes us back to the next awaiting chapter with cinematic smoothness – it’s almost as if you can feel the camera slowly cutting back to the story. A lumbering rhythm, “Black Sheep Boy #4″ is a nice, countrified segue that’s littered with darkened imagery of chasing forces.

“Another Radio Song” runs through a mixture of elements on the way to developing a belated but entirely effective momentum, before being submerged into a scene of mysterious noises that hint teasingly rather than detail the next progressive step – perhaps Appendix‘s only drawback to its compact contents.

Things reach a climax with “Last Love Song for Now,” another upbeat outing but this time charged with the swoon of Mariachi horns a la Calexico, hand-clapping its proclamation as the release’s standout moment before bowing out on the same fantastic string theme that has tied this neat little unit together brilliantly.

In all, the EP format allows Okkervil River to expand (but not rehash) the themes and feel to Black Sheep Boy, allowing them a creative license and margin for experimentation that, un-self-consciously, pays off dividends.

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