Leigh MichaelWednesday,25 September 2013

The Snap:

Okkervil River recently released its eighth album, The Silver Gymnasium. In keeping with the indie band’s past theme, the songs are defined by their storytelling nature. Each track stands alone; but cohesively, it takes the listener on a journey through lead singer/band brainchild Will Sheff’s hometown. The physical album bears a unique map of Meriden, New Hampshire, showing the viewer where each song takes place. Equal parts nostalgic and forward thinking, Okkervil River gently reminds the audience that sometimes there is more to an album that a standalone, virtual mp3.

You can snag the album on iTunes. Or you can buy a hard copy so you can enjoy the unique physical accompaniment.

The Download:

Before I get into the meat of this, you have to check out this incredible interactive map of Meriden, a la The Silver Gymnasium, courtesy of NPR. But there’s something about holding the physical foldout, which accompanies the CD, that transports the listener. It makes the album feel like a personal treasure hunt. You’re traveling through this quaint New England town and seeing it through the eyes of a kid. It’s an ingenious marketing technique on the band’s part; it makes The Silver Gymnasium feel like an experience.

If you’ve listened to Okkervil River before, then you’ll know that storytelling – especially biographical storytelling – is very much their modus operandi. “Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979” is about a Jobriath, the first openly gay musician to sign with a major record label; “John Allyn Smith Sails” is about poet John Berryman.

(side note: make sure you listen to “John Allyn Smith Sails.” It’s gold.)

So this album is interesting. It instead takes on a biographical approach, branching out from the emphatic – yet somehow detached – quality that defined the band’s other songs. I really enjoyed this snapshot into Sheff’s coming-of-age process. The record wasn’t punctuated with kickass tracks that I obsess about for months (“Lost Coastlines” will forever have my heart). “Pink Slips” is nice as-is, and “White” is fun, but the songs really make a statement when listened to as an album. When you approach The Silver Gymnasium like this, I have a feeling that you’ll agree that this is the strongest album that the group has ever produced. It’s like a slightly abstract musical book on tape – and how fun is that?

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Hat Tips:

NPR, Okkervil River, Pitchfork, Spin, Image Credit: Flickr

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