Donate Now to Support KDHX

Listen Live
Tuesday, 17 September 2013 11:34

Album review: Okkervil River comes of age and then some on 'The Silver Gymnasium'

Album review: Okkervil River comes of age and then some on 'The Silver Gymnasium'
Written by Brian Benton
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Okkervil River
"The Silver Gymnasium"


When a band known for far-reaching and imaginative conceptual works makes a coming of age album, it doesn't just "make a coming of age album." There's always more to it.

Austin band Okkervil River's albums are consistently detailed collections of mythologies pulled from vocalist Will Sheff's imagination and vast cultural knowledge. The band's newest release, "The Silver Gymnasium," is no exception. It's full of stories and references, as all their releases are, except all of these come from Sheff's youth.

The first hint that "The Silver Gymnasium" is more than just a typical coming of age album is the packaging. A purchase of the CD includes a map of Sheff's hometown of Meriden, N.H. that shows where each of the album's 11 songs takes place. Similar maps and trips through New Hampshire have been the basis of much of the promotion for "The Silver Gymnasium," including a Pitchfork video where the band plays cuts off the album at open mic nights throughout Meriden and an interactive map on NPR accompanied with photos from Sheff's youth and additional stories about the places included.

Musically, "The Silver Gymnasium" is fuller and more complete than some of the band's past music. Sheff's voice has more of an arena-rock growl and a good number of songs sound a whole lot like they could be by Arcade Fire. The instrumentation is groomed tighter, and there's less experimenting and more crispness, purpose and polish.

The album is rooted in nostalgia, but it's a triumphant, optimistic nostalgia. Even the softest songs, like the foggy and timid "Lido Pier Suicide Car," finish with a gust of spirit. A coming of age album must include moments of sadness, but Sheff makes a point to include his getting back up after each fall. On "All The Time, Every Day," Sheff sings of making his way "through the dark...every time, any day, any time, all the way," which is really what all of the albums darker songs conclude with. A highlight near the end of the album is "Stay Young." Chipper, upbeat and sprinkled with synths and horns, it's a celebration of the accomplishments mentioned in songs before it.

"Down Down The Deep River," the album's lead single, is perhaps the biggest success. It's a heartwarming recollection of Sheff's early exposure to the music, art and film that now has so much influence on his own creations. It follows the typical Okkervil River pattern of gradually building to a peak, but because it clocks in at 6:33 the song fits in a lot of less expected moments. If the typical Okkervil River song is a mountain, "Down Down the Deep River" is a whole mountain range. It would make a great closer for a live show.

What makes "The Silver Gymnasium" so powerful is the fact that even without looking at the map or hearing the stories that accompany each of the songs, we can tell where in Sheff's life they came from. "Down Down the Deep River" is a rainy night in middle school sitting on the floor with only a radio for company. "Stay Young" is his 18th birthday.


The magic of this album is that not only do you hear bits of Sheff's childhood in each song, but you also can hear bits of your own. For its most recent concept album, Okkervil River has made a record that seems to tell all of our stories.

Upcoming Concerts

Sponsor Message

Become a Sponsor

Find KDHX Online

KDHX on Instagram
KDHX on YouTube
KDHX on SoundCloud
KDHX on Facebook
KDHX on Twitter
KDHX on flickr

88.1 KDHX Shows


KDHX Recommends


Discovery Series

The Discovery Series, a 10-event series spanning February to June, 2015, will not only bring you new music, but also music-focused interactive sessions that take a look at how music plays a role in our society. Each month the...


Fringe Third Annual Quick Draw - Artist networking and lottery drawing

This event marks the final step of the selection process for shows in the 2015 St. Lou Fringe Festival … but more importantly, it is a one-of-a-kind inside look at the city’s bravest, most creative performing passion...


Leo Kottke

KDHX welcomes Leo Kottke to The Sheldon on Friday, February 6th at 8 PM. Folk guitarist Leo Kottke is known for his innovative 12-string technique, and intimate performance style.

Get Answers!

If you have questions or need to contact KDHX, visit our answers portal at

Online Users

1 user and 8907 guests online
Sign in with Facebook


Login/My Account

Sign in with Facebook