Album Review

The Silver Gymnasium

The Silver Gymnasium

by Okkervil River

ATO Records
7 / 10
25th September 2013

Reviewed by Paul Larsen

Tony Soprano once derided ’remember when’ as the lowest form of conversation, but for Okkervil River front-man Will Sheff it’s become the highest form of music making. Ostensibly a concept album based in and around his hometown of Meriden, New Hampshire, The Silver Gymnasium, is a nostalgia soaked, folk-rock retelling of the singer’s upbringing and formative years.

Fittingly, another great musical storyteller, Springsteen is reference heavily throughout The Silver Gymnasium. Third track, ‘Down Down the Deep River’ in particular, echoes the wistful anthems of Born to Run-era Bruce with it’s rose-tinted reminiscing of people and places from another era. ‘Stay Young’ is another standout which builds impressively into a chanting, horn-filled chorus the E-Street band themselves would be proud of. Sheff’s recollection of the tales he’s telling feels genuine throughout, with a varied and interesting soundscape providing a compelling audio filter to his childhood Polaroids.

Although it succeeds for the most part, the album’s weaker moments come when it tries to tell too much in too short a time. On film, exposition can drive a film’s momentum but in music, it runs the risk of becoming overly verbose. More often than not however, it’s easy to be a willing participant in Sheff’s joyfully melancholic story time.