Review Summary: Will Sheff’s midlife crisis.
The year is 1986. The setting is the quaint little town of Meriden, New Hampshire. The narrator of our story, ten year old William Sheff, takes us on an audible journey through the formative years of the average American youth in the late eighties. Listeners have plenty to relate to on these tracks, which deal with themes like young love, suicide, and the longing to leap beyond the bounds of sterile suburban comfort. Sheff’s dreams, like many of our own, are bigger than a 401K and a steady job.
Fast forward to the present. As it turns out, the town hasn’t changed all that much since you left it behind almost two decades ago. The rumor mill still churns amongst its neighborly citizens. Shopping centers still sit as empty as they were when you left it, opting instead to build a brand new building for that new Applebees to go in. Sheff’s homecoming was his inspiration for last year’s The Silver Gymnasium
, a bildungsroman that sees Okkervil River at their most accessible sound yet. It is their testament to growing up, growing old, and coming to terms with everything those inevitable years entail.
One of the most admirable qualities of the record is that rather than focus on the stories themselves, Sheff uses them to paint a picture of how they shaped his adulthood. His lyrics reflect not just on the events, but why the events were important. As with previous Okkervil River albums, these songs are simply a joy to listen to. Bright chords permeate these tracks with sunny piano keys interlaying Sheff’s soulful vocal melodies. They gleam with an 80s nostalgia that brings to mind classics like Springsteen’s Born In the U.S.A.
or Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever
. It’s like watching The Goonies for the fortieth time. It never gets old.