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4.5 out of 5 stars
8
The Silver Gymnasium
Format: Audio CD|Change
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 8 December 2013
I got this the day it came out but have waited til now to write a review as I wasn't sure about it at first and that is often a very good thing. As this is one of those albums that is a real grower, until one day all the pieces fall into place and you spend the next fortnight finding as much time as possible to listen to it.

This is Will Sheff making a return to his youth back in the 1980's in hometown Meriden, NH. These are songs about growing up and a small world with the promise of so much more, best friends forever and summers remembered with rose tinted glasses. Jonathan Meiburg (Sheerwater) makes a much welcomed contribution with banjo, harmony and vocals and we have a harpsichord played by the uber talented Justin Sherburn. But the real talent is as always Will Sheff and his soaring vocals and imagery of lyrics that are closer to poetry than a `pop tune'.

There are so many stand out tracks here `Lido Pier Suicide Car' is excellent and check out the versions on YouTube. `Stay Young' is an homage to the music of the eighties complete with fuzzy synth and if you try dancing to it, it only works if you do it eighties stylie, so large shoulder pads and rubbish bouffant may actually help. `Down the deep river' is almost anthemic, especially in length but it could go on all day as far as I am concerned, mind you then it would probably be `prog rock'.

The opening number `It was my season' is one of those that yearns for the golden days and all that was promised and is just brilliant. There are so many instruments on this album and it all works including trumpet, lap steel and harmonica. The only track that seems out of place is `Walking without Frankie' which is a bit slow and brooding and brings the pace down a tad. The two final tracks are a joy especially album closer `Black Nemo' which is up there with any of Okkervil's best work. I am a bit biased as I have loved this band for four years but I still think this is a simply excellent life affirming good piece of music - even the cover art is great,; ok gush over I am off for another listen.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 16 September 2013
Should Okkervil River implode tomorrow in sudden break up or be abducted by aliens they will have left us with a one outright work of genius (2003's "Down the river of golden dreams") and a range of other albums which were often brilliant and never ordinary ("The Black Sheep" being the best example). At the core of the consistency displayed by this Austin band over seven albums has been the songs of Will Scheff who has the distinction of being both one of rock's best lyricists and tenors. With the able support of a fine set of musicians, Scheff uses this new album "The Silver Gymnasium" to develop a lyrical theme exploring his own past essentially detailing with the people and places he knew while growing up in Meriden, New Hampshire in the 1980s. It leads to an album which is undoubtedly the least experimental of the bands work thus far. Musical and lyrical complexity has been part of this bands charm but this new album is probably the most accessible they have recorded since 2007s "The Stage Names". The good news is that it is genuinely solid and often beautiful album happily enchanted by the presence of Shearwater's unmistakable Jonathan Meiburg lending his backing vocals to five songs.

The source material provides Scheff with a strong conceptual hook to hang this album upon. Songs like the opening jaunty piano ballad "It was my season" have a singalong quality to them and a hint of Robert Smith. But like all Okkervil River songs they are infused with emotion and a capacity for incorporating multiple musical influences into a five minute window. This is even more pronounced on the smart lyrical word play on one of the albums standout tracks the six minute plus "Down, down in the deep river". In one sense it is highly commercial but Scheff is an expert at slightly subverting the norm not least in the dark hue of the lyrics which speak of a child's fear "We lie awake in our tents and I say, `tell me about your uncle and his friend, `cuz they seem like very bad men,'". This occurs against a joyous backdrop of horns, synths and handclaps which distantly echoes some of the work of Kevin Rowlands. More introspective is the haunting "Lido Pier Suicide Car" until around 4.28 it breaks out into a piece of Scheff led power pop. Other tracks worth seeking out include the slightly weird "Stay Young" where hints of some of the worse excesses of 80s music can be located (is that a Haircut 100 guitar line?). Sure its a bit OTT but also very enjoyable. There is the odd misstep here not least the pounding "Walking without Frankie" which is neither fish nor fowl, while "White" is a bit too crowded with instrumentation which doesn't seem to happily relate to the song structure. All is forgiven on the lovely alt country ballad "Black Nemo" which has Scheff sounding at his best floating above a beautiful melody. Finally whether it was intended or not Scheff has also written the best song that Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes never recorded. In "On the balcony" the horns blow loudly and its leads to song so punchy that could have been gifted by Springsteen.

Overall some may claim that Okkervil River have made an album here that all a bit to clever and commercial. that would be to miss the point. Scheff and the band have undoubtedly taken a more buoyant turn for this new outing. But there are some great songs here (and a couple of duds) which happily confirms this bands reputation as one concerned with the production of smart literate rock music that in this instance wears a broad smile on its face.
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on 27 September 2013
Finding it difficult to really love this latest offering from OR. Nothing really stands out for me. At the moment I have no real inclination to play it over and over. It is obviously excellent lyrically and musically proficient as with everything put out by Will Sheff and it pains me to say it does nothing special for me as he is passionate about everything he produces. There is no real oomph to this and although the songs are well structured and the idea behind the album is admirable the overall feel is of a smooth, melodic yet undemanding effort. I'm sure there will be plenty who will disagree and this may well gain the band many new admirers which would be well deserved and overdue. In comparison to Down the river of broken dreams, Black sheep boy, The stage names and the Stand ins which are my favourite albums this is a pale shadow. I also found their last album I am very far to be a bit of a backward step although there were a couple of tracks which stood out.
However bands change and cannot produce the same stuff over and over again. I am ever hopeful that this new album eventually hits the spot. Still looking forward to seeing them live later on this year but do wonder with this new material whether they will hit the heights attained previously.
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on 4 December 2013
A great new album from this under rated band, one of my 2014 favourite albums, I absolutely love it - enjoy
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on 14 November 2013
While this is still basically a "concept" album, in it's loosest form, it also works very well as a non-concept...if that doesn't sound ridiculous.
There are some really great songs on this album - favs: Down Down The Deep River and Stay Young.

As others have said, it does sound quite 80s...but it is the good 80s!
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on 29 August 2015
Great album, brought second hand in perfect condition can't moan at all was over the moon when I opened it
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on 2 October 2014
good as usual
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on 19 February 2017
Love it.
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