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Okkervil River — The Silver Gymnasium (2013)

 Okkervil River — The Silver Gymnasium (2013)

Okkervil River — The Silver Gymnasium
Location: Austin, Texas, United States
Album release: September 3, 2013
Record Label: ATO Records
Duration:     49:04
Tracks:
01. It Was My Season      (4:27)
02. On A Balcony      (3:05)
03. Down Down The Deep River      (6:33)
04. Pink-Slips      (3:39)
05. Lido Pier Suicide Car      (5:32)
06. Where The Spirit Left Us      (3:47)
07. White      (3:06)
08. Stay Young      (4:19)
09. Walking Without Frankie      (5:01)
10. All The Time Every Day      (4:37)
11. Black Nemo      (4:58)
Members:
♦  Will Sheff — Vocals, Guitar
♦  Lauren Gurgiolo — Electric Guitar, Mandolin
♦  Justin Sherburn — Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar
♦  Cully Symington — Drums
♦  Patrick Pestorius — Bass, Vocals
♦  Michael St. ClairTrumpet, Trombone, Violin, Keyboards, Guitar, Percussion, and Vocals
♦  Brian Cassidy — (non-touring member)
Producer: John Agnello
Website: http://okkervilriver.com/
MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/okkervilriver
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/okkervilriver
Description:
♦  "Okkervil River's 7th album, The Silver Gymnasium takes place in 1986 in a small town in New Hampshire where Will Sheff grew up. This is a special album for the band as it is Will's first autobiographical record. The album was produced by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr., John Mellencamp, Cyndi Lauper)."
In french:
♦  Un album en grande partie autobiographique et qui évoque l'atmosphere musicale que Will Sheff écoutait au cours de son adolescence. A découvrir.
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♦  The artwork for The Silver Gymnasium was done by William Schaff, who has done artwork for most of our albums including the great cover images for The Stage Names, Black Sheep Boy, and I Am Very Far.
♦  In the past, I’ve always driven out to William’s home in Warren, Rhode Island to play him the songs personally and get his visual take on the music. This time, we decided to have William fly down to Austin and hang out with us during our rehearsal process. By day he’d sit and watch us rehearse the full-band versions of the songs in preparation for our recording session; by night I’d play him the songs acoustically and talk about the places and people that inspired them, and we’d talk about visual ideas for the artwork.
♦  A week and a half or so after he’d returned to Warren, William sent me the beautiful central gatefold “map” image of my town circa 1986, based on all the discussions we’d had and e-mails we’d sent back and forth. I was astounded by the scope and detail and tenderness of the piece. It is my single favorite piece he’s ever done for us. I had giant print-outs made of it and I hung it on the wall at the studio where the vocals and overdubs were recorded. In the past I always felt like William’s artwork communicated with the music in some way, but with this record I wanted that communication to go both ways; I wanted the music to communicate with the artwork as well. While I would sing these songs or play the instrumental parts I’d look at the image hanging from the wall: I wanted to to feel like all of the music was pouring out of this picture. — Will Sheff
REVIEW
by STEPHEN THOMPSON; August 25, 201310:30 PM
♦  It's human nature to romanticize a specific time and place in the past — a moment when everything felt just right, or opportunities were laid out like a banquet. For Okkervil River's Will Sheff, it's been impossible to let go of Meriden, N.H., circa 1986: That tiny town is where he spent his childhood (he turned 10 that summer) and where his parents taught at an area boarding school. Meriden is where Sheff's visions of youth and innocence reside, even as he's gone on to live in Austin and Brooklyn, and to tour the world.
♦  Sheff sets Okkervil River's seventh album, The Silver Gymnasium, square in the heart of his own childhood; in the specific spot that produced his most sepia-toned memories. As such, the record captures not only his own autobiographical details, but also musical cues from the era. Like all Okkervil River records, The Silver Gymnasium showcases Sheff's uneasy warble, but this time it's set amid subtle synthesizers and the hallmarks of Bruce Springsteen's mid-'80s material. "Down Down the Deep River," for example, has an ambitious story to tell, but it's also wittily arranged, complete with an opening synth line that could just as well have been lifted from, say, ABC's "Be Near Me."
♦  Even as it evokes the distinctive spangle of '80s pop and rock — the album's producer, John Agnello, has been active for more than three decades, having produced both Kurt Vile's most recent record and The Outfield's "Your Love" — The Silver Gymnasium sounds personal and specific, as it floats warmly in the soft spots that separate childhood from adolescence. Naturally, given the themes, the group tucks in plenty of era-specific cultural references (Atari cartridges, cassette tapes, et al), but Sheff and his collaborators aren't just waxing nostalgic; they also take care to surround the iconography with what function as free-standing Okkervil River songs.
♦  The sturdiness of Sheff's songwriting ought to help The Silver Gymnasium resonate beyond the subset of listeners who themselves romanticize small-town life in the '80s; that and the fact that American pop culture has been romanticizing the '80s to some degree since about 1991. But even for those who romanticize other times and places — or eschew romanticization altogether — the album is too lovingly crafted to dismiss. ♦  Sheff is so invested in this world, he's commissioned an interactive map of Meriden (by the similarly named and otherwise remarkable artist Will Shaff), as well as an era-appropriate online adventure game, complete with 8-bit renderings of Okkervil River songs. It all adds up to a project in which nostalgia isn't the end result, but rather an engine that drives artistic ambition to a degree that's almost overwhelming. (http://www.npr.org/)
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Albums:
♦  2002 Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See — (Jagjaguwar)
♦  2003 Down the River of Golden Dreams — (Jagjaguwar)
♦  2005 Black Sheep Boy — (Jagjaguwar)
♦  2007 The Stage Names — (Jagjaguwar) No. 62 US
♦  2008 The Stand Ins — (Jagjaguwar) No. 42 US, No. 57 SWE
♦  2011 I Am Very Far — (Jagjaguwar) No. 32 US, No. 66 UK
♦  2013 The Silver Gymnasium (ATO Records)
Split albums:
♦  2003 Julie Doiron / Okkervil River — Acuarela, split with Julie Doiron
♦  2004 Sham Wedding/Hoax Funeral — Jound, split with Shearwater
EPs:
♦  1998 Bedroom EP — Jound
♦  1999 Stars Too Small to Use — Jound
♦  2004 Sleep and Wake-Up Songs — (Jagjaguwar)
♦  2005 Black Sheep Boy Appendix — (Jagjaguwar)
♦  2006 Overboard & Down — Inertia, Australia-only tour EP
Other:
♦  2007 Black Sheep Boy (Definitive Edition) — Double album of Black Sheep Boy and Black Sheep Boy Appendix (Europe and US, Jagjaguwar)
♦  2007 Golden Opportunities Mixtape — A collection of eight covers and one original song released on the band's website
♦  2010 True Love Cast Out All Evil backing Roky Erickson (ANTI-)
♦  2011 Golden Opportunities 2 — EP with four covers and one traditional song, released via the band's website
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Will Sheff (born July 7, 1976) is the frontman for the Austin, Texas-based indie band Okkervil River (1998–present). Originally from Meriden, New Hampshire, he is also a founding member and co-songwriter (along with former Okkervil bandmate Jonathan Meiburg) for Shearwater (2001–2009), another Austin band. Sheff writes and performs many songs as a solo artist while juggling his commitments to Okkervil River and Shearwater, but has released just one single as a solo artist. As well as writing and singing songs, he plays the guitar, the piano, the banjo, and the harmonica.
♦  Sheff attended Kimball Union Academy and was an English major at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
♦  Sheff has collaborated with The Mendoza Line on the duet "Aspect of an Old Maid" and played piano on the Palaxy Tracks album Cedarland. With Okkervil River, he produced Roky Erickson's 2010 album True Love Cast Out All Evil and provided backing musicianship. He has produced an upcoming album by Brooklyn-based band Bird of Youth along with Phil Palazzolo.
♦  Sheff contributed a large amount of original music writing to the articles section of Audiogalaxy before the service was shut down.
♦  He also recently contributed background vocals to The New Pornographers' 2010 album, Together.
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REVIEW
By jakelbittle; Posted on August 28, 2013; Score: 9/10
♦  “We can never go back / We can only remember,” sings Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff on the group’s newest album, The Silver Gymnasium. The line is a true manifesto for nostalgia, and, indeed, so is Silver: every song centers around Sheff’s childhood in Meriden, NH. But when applied to the band’s musical career, the same line rings totally false, because Silver shows the band leaving behind the botched experimentation of 2011’s I Am Very Far and harking back to the tones and atmospheres of their best album to date, 2003’s Down The River of Golden Dreams.
♦  Silver has the flavor of familiar musical territory revisited with a different mindset, almost exactly like revisiting your childhood hometown as an adult. The style is the same, but something has changed, somehow, though it’s hard to pinpoint. The instrumentation varies healthily from song to song, but, as always, the success of each track is dependent upon what Sheff chooses to do with his voice. Okkervil River has always been a band whose music improves considerably when one is familiar enough with the lyrics to internalize them: some songs, like “Where The Spirit Left Us” and “All The Time Every Day” (which sounds like a show tune —no, really), don’t have melodies that jump out at the listener immediately, but upon a re-listen they reveal compelling and emotional rhythms. Certain other songs, like “White” and “Walking Without Frankie” (really weird free-associative lyrics), don’t reveal this melodic depth, even after multiple re-listens. Those are just the breaks.
♦  The plurality of Silver’s tracks, however, connect by the first chorus. It’s these songs that will please even those who are turned off Sheff’s voice (he both can and can’t sing). Three of these standouts come in rapid succession, and all earn themselves places in the pantheon of Best Okkervil River Songs Ever: the sprawling, beautiful “Down The Deep River” gives way to the modulated, hysteric “Pink Slips”, which is succeeded by the album’s best track, “Lido Pier Suicide Car”, which builds from  a haunting groove to vivifying climax. The album’s bookends — perky opener “It Was My Season” and the album’s best song lyrically, “Black Nemo” — are also nothing short of canonical.
♦  The track that best encapsulates Silver’s significance, though, is “Stay Young”, the one track that disobeys the rule about Sheff’s voice making or breaking a song. The lyrics are a passionate ode to dispassionate youth, but the queer combination of guitars and synths evokes nostalgia leaps and bounds better than any lyrics could. In the 80’s I wasn’t even a twinkle in my mother’s eye, but when I listen to “Stay Young”, I feel like a child again. This is what good music does, and this is what The Silver Gymnasium does. Any album so charged with fundamental emotions can be forgiven a few mis-steps and opacities, because of what it does for us, not for our ears, but for our hearts.
Fortaken: http://jakelbittle.wordpress.com/
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Okkervil River — The Silver Gymnasium (2013)

 

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