In all honesty, I can't bring myself to call this record ‘bad’, but by the same token neither can I call it ‘good’. Okkervil River have a very distinct and refined ‘sound’; of the five albums of theirs I own (including this, The Silver Gymnasium; their latest effort) there is barely a second amongst them that is not instantly identifiable as Okkervil River. And there's also no escaping the fact that it's a sound and image that aligns seamlessly with what I consider to be ’proper’ music.
The Silver Gymnasium, like the records that preceded it, is a real band making real music with real instruments (a true mark of distinction in my eyes). Okkervil River's music is taught and well-arranged, put together with care, skill and attention to detail, and yet still rough enough around the edges to be credible in this world of over-produced, over-dressed, and overly-melismatic drivel that pervades the airwaves and the populist imagination.
In short, this music is good, and should be celebrated for no other reason than that it is much better than most other music made at the moment. Of course there is a “but” coming: when I listen to Okkervil River I'm not comparing them to other bands. In the bear-market of my affections, they need to beat their past successes. When I listen to The Silver Gymnasium I'm thinking of older songs like For Real (from Black Sheep Boy) and Lost Coastlines, Singer Songwriter and Pop Lie (from The Stand Ins), and against such competition the new stuff doesn't really pass muster. I'd go as far as to say that For Real, in particular, is one of my favourite 100 songs of all-time. So while the songs on The Silver Gymnasium do improve with repeated listens and the record as a whole has few flaws, this in itself is not enough for me to proclaim it as being any better than average.
The Silver Gymnasium will be released in the UK by [PIAS] on the 30th of September.