Okkervil River provides a focused and complex pair of songs using unexpected colors and surprising tones.
Will Sheff's on a streak of songs as good as anyone's written in a while, and Okkervil River's latest 12-inch "The President's Dead" keeps the pace up between the Black Sheep Boy releases and the next album due out this summer. Where the last couple releases have held almost unbearable intensity (stopping just short of melodrama), these two tracks drop the musical pitch far down, without releasing the lyrical intensity. The a-side delivers assassination news and meditations on beauty in mortality on a happy little pop tune; the b-side, "The Room I'm Hiding In" moves back to country terrain with a classic weepy steel guitar sound and a controlled delivery, disguising the loss and fear that the narrator lives in. That sort of juxtaposition in itself isn't that unique an approach, but Okkervil River executes it very well, describing "no better state to cease to exist" as a condition that might be acceptable. Sheff the vocalist does sound like a "small quiet man" with "no wars to win," toning things down from BSB's strained tumult. The conflicting feelings evoked by lyrics, music, and delivery make this quick 12-inch an economic study in layered songwriting, keeping Sheff and Okkervil River's flow alive.