Key Tracks:”It Was My Season,” “Lido Pier Suicide Car”
The easiest thing to say about “The Silver Gymnasium” is that it does it’s job. A folk album that’s loosely based around the nostalgic concept of leaving one’s hometown comes in, has a number of varied tracks, and finishes. It’s unfortunate that this is being said of Okkervil River, because place this album a decade in the past and it would have been something really great. But Okkervil River might be a victim of their own creation. The band formed in 1998, long before the recent alt-folk revolution gave us Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Of Monsters and Men and what feels like two hundred other, largely great bands. Okkervil River used to be at the forefront of alt-folk, among the likes of fellow hold-outs Neko Case and pre-steriod addiction Wilco. The sounds conveyed on “The Silver Gymnasium” was a folk sound popular in the late ’90s. But with bands like Fleet Foxes now challenging the basic connotations of folk, this old sound is just a little outdated and a little boring.
But time should not be the main critique of quality, and there are some great songs on the album. Will Sheff’s voice is soothingly melodic, and matches the nostalgic tone perfectly. Opening track “It Was My Season” is so engagingly beautiful that almost anything that follows is set up for disappointment. Fellow stand-out “Lido Pier Suicide Car” serves as the album’s second-longest song, staying down tempo for long enough that its seconds away from becoming belaboring before kicking up the pace. And “Black Nemo” stands as a beautiful finale. These tracks, and a few others, are enough to still make the album a worthwhile listen, but there are a number of formulaic tracks. A fair amount of the album doesn’t quite feel original enough to exist in 2013, and a majority of the tracks aren’t really that memorable.
Okkervil River fans, and fans of late 90′s alt-folk will surely enjoy the album. Its nostalgic feel should connect with the band’s audience, many of whom can probably relate to leaving their hometowns. And in fact, the nostalgic tone might be why the album sounds a little tired. It could all be part of the concept. But even if it is, it isn’t an album for fans of the recent folk uprising. The concept works, and the never-indulgent personality Sheff displays works, it just isn’t easy to imagine revisiting the album after the first listen.
If you like this, try: the Neko Case album that’s reviewed directly underneath this!
-By Andrew McNally