Category: albumreviews

[Album Review] Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium

In 2011, I noticed that Okkervil River’s lead singer, Will Sheff, had taken to Twitter. This is notable, for me, because a medium like Twitter is all about accessibility and Will Sheff has always seemed inaccessible. Not that you couldn’t understand him – on the contrary, his songs could make you understand anything – but his tastes and intellect seemed so refined that I couldn’t even imagine having a conversation with him. This is a guy who writes sweeping, biographical album enders about tragic glam rock figures and constructs elaborate references to numerical song titles just for fun. Maybe I’m just dumb (and this is not unheard of) but I’ve always imagined Will Sheff to be an intimidating, intellectual giant that had no patience for things that were not literary and large.

Yet, there he is on Twitter, talking about the same autotune YouTube videos as the rest of us. On this common misconception, Sheff had this to say:

I think people think we’re a lot more self serious than we actually are, and I think that’s a shame. It makes me sad anyone would think that. I think that if you think that you’re really projecting something of your own and no offense to anyone who thinks that — no actually, fuck you, don’t like my band — but still, I think you’re kind of projecting your own image of me, as this guy who wears glasses and writes these kind of big, luxurious songs or something like that.

As a longtime Okkervil River fan, guilty as charged. Our problem is that they broke through with the album, Black Sheep Boy in 2005, a masterful work that felt so devastating and true that we assumed it was personal. We assumed everything he wrote was straight from his life, like most songwriters. We didn’t yet understand that Sheff was actually a songwriter with a fiction writer’s sensibility.