Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff has never shied away from dipping his pen into the seemingly bottomless inkwell of nostalgia that seems to permeate much of 21st century indie pop and rock, but on The Silver Gymnasium, the Lone Star State band’s seventh long-player, Sheff goes all in with a celebration/exorcism of his hometown of Meridian, New Hampshire, crafting an 11- track, exhaustively detailed audio-biography that comes off like a more idiosyncratic, less overbearing version of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. Sheff, born in 1976, imbues much of the record with a patina of (tasteful ) '80s AOR excess (listeners have the option to go online and explore the town using an 8-bit point and click adventure game), especially on album highlights like the expansive and disarmingly tragic "Down Down the Deep River," the bubbly ska and new wave-infused "Stay Young," and the hypnotic "Walking Without Frankie," the latter of which sounds like a dark, alternate universe rendering of J. Geils Band's "Freeze Frame." It's not all Trans-Am's and Pac Man though, as evidenced by the whimsical, Hunky Dory-era Bowie-colored opener "It Was My Season" and the twang-kissed, fist-pumping "White." That the band uses these time-worn textures without irony suggests a real reverence and understanding of the time period, which helps the material feel more like an emotionally charged high five than just a highly impressionistic show and tell, and Sheff's willingness to strike a balance between his roots rock past and his personal past should please longtime fans and newbies alike, even if they spend the majority of the ride wondering why the tour bus never actually stops at the Silver Gymnasium.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger