So there's this band called Okkervil River which features the songs of Will Sheff, and many or most of his earlier songs (and some of his later ones) have sinister narratives and evil characters but they are sung in such an appealingly awesome way that you can't help but sing along despite the horrific nature of the stories in the songs themselves. Sing along with my favorites.
Key Line: And when I killed her, it was so easy, that I wanted to kill her again.
Basic Plot: Man hooks up with high school friend Colin Kincaid, who invites out a couple girls Colin knew from Kenwood Christian -- one was name Laurie, that's what the story said next week in The Guardian. Because, you know, he killed her -- the narrator, not Colin. And it was awesome. The narrator's take, not mine. I don't know how Colin reacted.
Extra Stuff: The song starts slow with a country twang but revs up to 100 in an instant with the key line above, so when you hear it live -- and it is completely unbelievable live -- there is relative silence until the crowd sings along to the song at the exact point it gets morbid. And when I killed her, it was so easy, that I wanted to kill her again!!!! I got down on both of my knees and, she ain't coming back again. She ain't coming back again... La la la la la la la la la la la la la.
Basic Plot: The girl Cynda Moore is molested by her father as a child, which she reveals to a current lover who vows revenge a la the key line, which is more my favorite line than an actual key line because pretty much the whole song is brilliant. And it's not really depraved because the violence here is fairly well justified. "But if I could tear his throat, spill his blood between my jaws, and erase his name for good, don't you know that I would?"
Extra Stuff: To me, the fact that the narrator is the one hearing this story is always what I found interesting and it actually led to a story that won me an award at Rowan, a story I've tried and failed to get published, perhaps because of the darkness of the material, perhaps because it wasn't that good, but to me, the scene of the reveal of the molestation itself -- "And I can still see the cigarette's heat, can't believe all that you're telling me!" -- was fascinating enough to spark a story in my mind. And maybe I will let you all read it on Vague Space since it isn't going elsewhere it seems. But anyway, the song is pretty dark and pretty violent and the subject matter is obviously horrible but the song is brilliant.
3. For Real
Basic Plot: Kind of tough to figure out but it's definitely not pleasant. The other key lines that rank it so high are: "And I really miss what did exist when I held your throat so tight" and the closing repeated mantra "You can't hide, you can't hide, you can't hide!" It's definitely about a very violent relationship and it's not entirely clear throughout who the narrator is talking to or about and whether or not it's about himself.
Extra Stuff: The video for the song certainly fits the mood but appears to be about a father/son relationship rather than a man/woman relationship. But it's just as violent and depraved.
4. The Next Four Months
Key Line: Maybe we could break your ankle, clean and unsuspiciously. An ER trip, a doctor's slip, and you could share your pills with me.
Basic Plot: Addiction. Also, not such a good parent. "Little Michael sleeping in the child safety seat, lying with the windows rolled up in the August heat." And: "You scratch your wrist and you pretend your kids, your husband, all you left does not exist."
Extra Stuff: It doesn't end well, but how many of these stories do. Cause we've felt fully in our bodies and we've felt totally alive, so we're prepared to float above this dirty bed where we both lie. Where we lie, lie, lie. Will we be fine? Not this time. (by the way, not until I just wrote out these lyrics did I recognize the double meaning of "lie" there. Oh Will you are a fucking genius, sir).
5. The War Criminal Rises and Speaks
Basic Plot: War criminal from 30 years back gets caught after leading an ordinary life somewhere else "past Subway, past Stop-N-Shop..." and gets put on a trial where he, as they say, rises and speaks. While you gasp at my bloody crimes please take the time to make your heart my home.
Extra Stuff: I think it's somewhat of a comment on our society going on about its day while around the world there are horrible atrocities going on that never or rarely make the news (and even when they do, we don't care): "The head wants to turn, to avert both its eyes but the mind wants to learn some truth that might be inside reported crimes." But it's also perhaps a story of some sort of forgiveness, or the human need for ignorance of the horrors of the world, simply to get through the day. So our blood-spattered criminal is inscrutable, don't worry he won't, rise up behind your eyes and take wild control -- he's not of your time, he fell out of a hole.
6. In a Radio Song
Key Line: Warm light when your eyes fill with laughter, some animal lies in the pasture, holes in its throat where the blood was drawn, in its mouth where the tongue was torn, by your claws, your claws, your claws.
Basic Plot: The sadistic Boy of the full album Black Sheep Boy is still a child but growing into the depraved lunatic inhabiting other tracks. And yes, the animal murder is supposedly the #1 sign that your child will grow into a sociopath, but also, the depraved father from "Black" and possibly "For Real" appears at the opening as well: "Blue-eyed charmer, head hanging with horns from your father".
Extra Stuff: This song doesn't have the rousing musical peaks of some of the other tracks here and as such, the sinister story is perhaps less bracing and captivating, but is just as sinister I think.
Key Line: I don't think that you would sink that ship that's only passing through, because I don't believe that you might be a murderess.
Basic Plot: Yeah, she is. Although it's likely that the plot is a metaphor for love. Oh murderess in the wilderness, with your victims all around you. As their combined love forms a pool your knife's reflected in. Now I'm ready, too, with my throat to
you. On this mountain. By this moon. And what I want the most to do is prove that I'm not like them.
Extra Stuff: This song was originally called "Murderess" and appear with only slightly changed lyrics and a significantly slowed-down beat on the split EP with Shearwater called Sham Wedding / Hoax Funeral. In many ways, I prefer the "Murderess" version, but I'm sharing the "Piratess" version that appears on their latest album I Am Very Far.
8. Another Radio Song
Basic Plot: This one's kind of impossible to discern. But the story is incredibly raw, incredibly infectious - ha! - and just a stunningly brilliant song. And it makes this list of depravity largely because Sheff explodes at the end, in frothing nonstop screaming of the amazing lyrics: "Scream all this is window dressing, all you are is flimsy curtains, watch you flame out with a word from us, you won't know that you're burning!!!" Burning. It's so perfect. The screams. Like a fresh wound deep in your soul. OK, that was weak but I am not a poet like Mr. Sheff. Just a wonderful, wonderful all time great song.
Extra Stuff: Much like Murderess / Piratess, this song is a newer version of "For the Captain", with some lyrics changed to add the "Black Sheep Boy" in but mostly to add the upbeat tempo and screaming in the 2nd half that makes this one of the greatest songs ever by any artist ever.
There is no escaping the thing that is making it's home on your radio.
9. Love to a Monster
Key Line: Yeah I hope you get angry and hurt and have the hardest of landings. And I hope your new man thinks of me when he sees what a number I did on you.
Basic Plot: Emotionally damaged ex-boyfriend lashes out in verse at the girl who left him. Like hardcore lashing. To wit: I grow tired of this song, turn my eyes to the blonde in the bleachers, she's a lovely young creature, I think she's seeking adventure. I think she's ready to see that the world ain't so sweet, nor so tender. I won't break her, just bend her, and turn her into my new ringer for you.
Extra Stuff: In the end, despite the vitriol the narrator spits out as his ex, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for the depression deep in the heart of this ruined man. "But I'll fight off the spring, I don't want lovely things, I don't want the earth new."
10. So Come Back, I Am Waiting
Key Line: A black sheep boy dissolves in hot cream, in sweet moans, in each dead bed and empty home, in seething bacterium.
Basic Plot: The second-to-last song on Black Sheep Boy closes out the song cycle in an amazingly lyrical way, as the "hero" (anti-hero) comes back to the hell inside his mind (his addictions, his horrible upbringing/abuse, his failed love) and falls apart one final time: "So why did you bawl from the spell of some old holy song, that some liar laughed as he composed?"
Extra Stuff: And he gives in...
And there’s plenty of ways to claim his crimes tonight,
and there’s plenty of things to do on his dime.
And there’s plenty of ways to wear his hide tonight.
You’ve got yours and I’ve got mine.
You've got yours, I've got mine.
So why did you flee?! Don't you know you can't leave...