A bunch of years ago, I was dating an asshole known to my friends as Hot Andy. Hot Andy and I were coworkers — I was waiting tables and he worked in the kitchen. We had a brief and deeply dysfunctional relationship that ended when he dumped me for his ex-girlfriend, whose name rhymes with mine, and who promptly broke up with him. He then started dating one of my best friends at the time, who was a co-worker of ours. This was the source of a few sleepless nights and a lot of awkward shifts.
He was also the creator of one of the handful of break-up mixes I’ve received over the years. His ever-so-subtle track choices included “Baby Bitch” by Ween and “Perfect Sonnet” by Bright Eyes. The opening lyrics of the latter song: “Lately I’ve been wishing I had one desire; Something that would make me never want another”. (See: breakup, previous paragraph.) To his credit, Hot Andy had also made me a mix the night we first made out, which was sweet.
At any rate, he introduced me to a few key artists. The first is Bright Eyes, which is incredibly angsty, earnest music that–best I can tell–is made for 20-somethings who drink too much and are dating guys (or girls) like Hot Andy. Bright Eyes (aka Conor Oberst and his band) were a brief fascination of mine, but I only ended up being interested in two or three tracks on each album. The rest were so raw and under-developed as to feel embarassing. Despite what the New York Times once said, Conor Oberst was/is not this generation’s Bob Dylan. (And OMG that writer’s name is Pagan Kennedy.)
The second, and lasting, discovery I got from Hot Andy is Okkervil (AH-ker-ville) River out of Austin. Okkervil River is a lot of things, but for me (and this is largely a function of circumstance), they are a grown-up version of Bright Eyes. They are angsty and raw, but talented and thoughtful. Their songs, unlike those of Bright Eyes, employ adult tools like metaphor, lyricism and historical and literary reference.
Okkervil River has come a long way in the seven years since Hot Andy’s CD first played in my little studio apartment. Their style has developed and matured consistently over five full-lengths, and they’ve gotten a fair amount of press. For me, though, their first album Don’t Fall in Love With Everyone You See is still my favorite, and my most-frequently-played tracks are not the ones Bob Boilen will ever play on NPR. Below you’ll find a sample of some of their songs I love the most.
Note: This first song, Red, was the soundtrack I kept singing in my head on my first, and only, backpacking trip. We were in NW NE Oregon near the Idaho border and in way over our heads in the woods. My grandma had just died and I had to hike 12 hours a day with open wounds on my feet. My little mini-vacation had turned into a nightmare known as “the trip where Cowbelle cried”, during which, I would later learn, Hot Andy was making out with someone else.