Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium

By Christina Croucher

Released August 30th, 2013 - UMusic

Okkervil River's 7th album The Silver Gymnasium is an 11 song sequence of musical storytelling. 7 seems to be their lucky number with the album peaking at number 7 on the Billboard 200, which is their highest rating to date.

It was said that the album was inspired greatly on Will Sheff's childhood hometown; before I heard this fact it was pretty apparent that the album has a lot of inspiration drawn from predominant pieces of his past. From track one (It Was Our Season), Will opens with his mature, raspy tone telling the story of an old high school relationship that had to end.  This song is the start of an album that seems to take you back to a place that exists somewhere maybe Will Sheff only knows, but he creates a good portal linking us to his past with his use of sensory invoking words and colourful imagery. His lyrics are drenched in all the senses, refreshingly not all rhymed.

Story telling is a very predominant feature in this album and it's obviously something Will Sheff is very good at, the complex lyrics work their way above the fairly simplistic beats and constant rhythmic guitar strumming throughout a lot of the album but the contrast is effective. There's a lot of contrast in the somewhat perkiness of the music with the more melancholy feel in the vocals as shown in Down Down The Deep River. In this track he lags his vocals over the music in a relaxed way but still very emotive in tone.

Wills vocal tone seems to adapt strongly to the feel of the song and the majority of the songs leave a lot of interpretation to the listener due to the complex and quite poetic writing style. In Pink Slips I picked out the topic of the darker side of the temptations, turn-downsides of fame "Liars, lumps, drug addicts and drunks, I love my friends but I can't stop without going all the way''. The same with the acoustic and musically pretty-sad Lido Pier Suicide Car. His deep voice seems to be bemoaning the loss of the simplicity and comforts of the past while discovering the unexpected burdens that came with following his dreams. This song starts slow in tempo then really picks up - one of the stand out tracks on the album.

Where The Spirit Left Us is harmonious and has a lot of Synth in it making it a bit pop sounding. White is probably the busiest instrumental wise on the album. In Stay Young we are reminded again of the difficulties of growing up and what the big world dishes out to you but the chorus contrasts it with a positive message of staying strong, positive and young.

There are more brilliant metaphors in Walking without Frankie where he talks of other people's problems. Whether they are true stories of people he's known or imagined, Will seems to soak in the troubles of his surroundings and twists it into great metaphorical song writing.

In the steady ¾ beat of All The Time Every Day which could become almost tediously repetitive still manages to be a stand out on the album. The music is filled with electric guitar, has a cool horn section, a catchy tune and talks about looking back and procrastinating instead of getting ahead. The sometimes repetitiveness of life and how we can create bad and boring habits and hold onto negative beliefs - although like the other song meanings on this album , this is up for debate.

Black Nemo is an appropriate end track as it winds you down with beautifully layered instrumentals, acoustic guitars and harmonies. All up I'd highly recommend this album to Indie, Rock, Country and Folk lovers or anyone who wants to hear something a little bit unique. I feel The Silver Gymnasium has a uniqueness and depth that a lot of Indie seems to be missing these days, maybe due to the band connecting so well to the honesty of the lyrics. The Silver Gymnasium is sometimes gloomy, melancholy and nostalgic then to contrast quite positive and upbeat especially music wise making it quite a dynamic, somewhat emotionally draining album.

4 / 5