The Silver Gymnasium
Sep 03, 2013 Web Exclusive
Frontman Will Sheff has always sung with the conviction and passion of someone plumbing deep wounds, his voice cracking with the effort. Okkervil River's seventh full-length effort, The Silver Gymnasium, finds the band a little more controlled, the emotions a bit more corralled, more focused. Perhaps this is a natural process of aging, or perhaps this is due to The Silver Gymnasium being an autobiographical record of Sheff's childhood in Meriden, New Hampshire in the '80s. There's a golden sheen to these 11 songs—not that of overproduction, but that of memories come to life.
There's tribute paid here to the music of the times. It's not the sprightly bounce of New Wave, but the muscle of the rock 'n' roll. "Down Down the Deep River" carries out a Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band stomp, replete with shimmering keyboards and energizing horns. Sheff sings of clinging to friends against the mysteries of growing older, of knowing death for the first time, and of understanding the cruelty of the world. "But it's not all right," he sings. "It's not even close to all right." "Stay Young" shows echoes of Bob Seeger, and elsewhere, classic rock radio—Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty—tinges the proceedings, but the listener never loses sight of Okkervil River.
While the music often shows a strength and hope, The Silver Gymnasium is largely a heartbreaking record. Much like Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, The Silver Gymnasium evokes the terror and exhilaration of being set free upon the world for the first time, where everywhere there is tragedy and the fear of seeing all of these things and not quite understanding them yet. Adult Sheff breaks in at times, and during "Pink-Slips" he seems to throw up his hands at all of it, summing up both the record and our constant need to relive the past in one masterful stroke: "This wish to go back/When I know I wasn't ever happy!/Show me my best memory/It's probably super crappy." (www.okkervilriver.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 7/10
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