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coverpic flag US - Texas - Full Moon 210 - 10/19/13

Okkervil River
The Silver Gymnasium
ATO

Okkervil River formed in Austin, Texas in 1998, by singer-songwriter Will Sheff and Zach Thomas (bass and mandolin), with drummer Seth Warren quickly added for a trio. Shortly after they met and hooked up with multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Meiburg (accordion, pianos and organs). After a gig at SXSW they signed to Jagjaguwar, and the snowball started to roll. So far the ball has kept rolling through a lot of line-up changes, throughout 6 albums, and now they've released their 7th; The Silver Gymnasium, inspired by Sheff's childhood and hometown.

They have left Jagjaguwar for ATO (According to Our) Records, a division of RCA Records and home to My Morning Jacket, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Alabama Shakes, Gogol Bordello, and more. In addition, I am not sure if the label change is the reason, but have they become a straighter band, music wise? Opener "It Was My Season" is a fairly warm and proper song, but...well? To my ears, they glide towards Springsteen land. Well, not really, they are not quite there, not at all - they still relate to other America-rooted bands such as, say, Band of Horses and Grand Archives, and label-mates My Morning Jacket. Plus others. Due to Sheff's wordsmith skills - their songs make me imagine Okkervil River being an American Pulp (Jarvis' melodies and voice - and lyrics). I'm sorry to say, but I'm not hanging on throughout The Silver Gymnasium, even though there are some songs standing out, above the rest. That said, I feel that the temperature is dropping, and I am losing interest as the record spins. I prefer their two albums that followed their acclaimed and rather successful debut album, Black Sheep Boy (2005), namely The Stage Names (2007) and The Stand Ins (2008).

I haven't checked the off-spring band Shearwater, which was founded in 1999, by Meiburg and Sheff, mainly with Meiburg's songs, but also holding some Sheff songs not meant (or fitting) for Okkervil River. In 2008, Meiburg left OR for Shearwater to be his full-time band. In 2010, Okkervil River collaborated with psychedelic rock cult legend, heading the late 60s crazed, dazed and spaced 13th Floor Elevators leader Roky Erickson (not to mention his crooked solo career - before, during and after years of mental illness, diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia), as a backing band, and with Sheff producing Roky's 2010 album True Love Cast Out All Evil.

As a conclusion, I must say The Silver Gymnasium is not my cup of tea. Sorry.

Copyright © 2013 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Okkervil River articles/reviews: Away, Mermaid EP, The Stage Names.

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