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Okkervil River's new album focuses on a time before smartphones, comes on cassette

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Other than being the second state in the nation to hold a presidential primary/caucus every four years, what happens in New Hampshire is somewhat shrouded in mystery — especially to those who live in the opposite corner of the country.

Okkervil River, whose frontman Will Sheff hails from the Granite State, is trying to unlock those unknowns in the indie rock band's September release The Silver Gymnasium.

The album encapsulates a blast-from-the-past moment, transporting listeners back to 1986 when Sheff was an awkward 10-year-old living in rural Meriden, N.H., beginning to find himself.

Inspired by the year the music reflects, the album is, oddly, available on cassette tape.

"This was actually written to be a driving album," Sheff recently told, disregarding the fact that newer cars don't come with tape decks anymore. "... I don't know, there's something really fun about that — and people also listen to cassettes in prison, there's a real cassette economy in prison."

Whether heard in a moving vehicle or a cramped cell, The Silver Gymnasium is as personal as Sheff, the lead songwriter and lyricist, has ever let an Okkervil River album become. The prior six albums tended to be more story-oriented, mostly dark lyrically, but not based on exact experiences.

"It's kind of an odd thing, writing a personal or autobiographical record when you don't like people examining what you do," Sheff said.

But as much as New Hampshire shaped the singer-songwriter, Okkervil River is a product of Austin, Texas. Formed there in 1998 by Sheff and two high school buddies, it became a quartet the next year with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Meiburg, who left in 2008 to take Shearwater, his side project with Sheff, full time. The band has gone through numerous lineup changes, and its current roster of six easily creates a distinctive rock/folk/country sound, though Sheff has relocated to Brooklyn; the rest of the group still resides in Austin.

No matter where the band members live, for the past month the road has been their shared home, promoting the new work. The road is where the next part of their story is being formed. ♦

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— Okkervil River with Matthew E. White • Mon, Oct. 28 at 8 pm • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • $15 • All-ages • • 244-3279

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