There are times when Will Sheff’s insistence causes The Silver Gymnasium to feel bloated, however it’s an arresting formula when it succeeds and giving too much thought to subtlety might file down the record’s most vital moments.
Something’s happening at all points on The Silver Gymnasium, giving off the sense that every movement is essential. This feeling largely comes from the pulsing presence of vocalist/songwriter Will Sheff. Hearing someone broadcast from the source of alarm, lust or melancholy is rather captivating and many songs on The Silver Gymnasium benefit from this urgency.
Opener ‘It Was My Season’ tells of two childhood friends being kept apart. It’s a heart-wrenching experience – “If you want to stop our thing you’ll stop my heart” – but the pain doesn’t last and Sheff concludes, “I hardly think about it now.” The two central themes established in this song (the exigency of youth can’t be returned to, and being told what to do shapes the person you become) recur throughout the 13-song sequence. On ‘Down Down The Deep River’ Sheff muses, “We can never go back, we can only remember”, and ‘Pink Slips’ contains the confession “I can’t stop without going all the way, it’s a habit someone gave me”. In the record’s best moments, Sheff’s figurative impressions of experience evoke a palpable sense of longing.
The record’s learned instrumentation (incorporating horns, strings and synthesisers into the standard rock band setup) remains reasonably disciplined and John Agnello’s spacious production fends off potential claustrophobia. Moments of towering melodic uplift nominate the album as the bent cousin of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. Elsewhere, ‘On A Balcony’ is marked by vehement Born To Run-like conviction, while the autumnal melodies of ‘All The Time Every Day’ nod towards The Band.
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
The Silver Gymnasium is out now through ATO/Spunk