Throughout each phase of Okkervil River's back catalogue, the band have proven time and again that they are one of the most exceptional and under-appreciated bands in modern music - and in Sheff they have a lyricists of unrivalled quality. It's a tough yard-stick to be measured against, but throughout their ever-changing musical evolution, it's one they've be consistently over-delivering on.

Early albums were built upon a rougher sonic quality, characterised by simple, impactful instrumentation which left plenty of room for detailed, often concept album based, narratives to be woven into the album's fabric (I mean, just listen). However, following the slight decline in the resonance of this approach on 2008's The Stand In's , a change of pace was made on the band's last record, I Am Very Far. Layer upon layer of booming guitars and pianos were built upon a bed of thudding percussion, creating huge walls of sound and allowing the musicianship to stand on equal footing to the band's usual focal point, their lyrics.

With all of this behind them; fifteen years, six albums, and one label (this will be their first record on ATO Records following their split with long-term collaborators Jagjaguwar), it's time for them to once more move forward; and sometimes to do that you've got to go back to where it all began.

It's 1986 in the sleepy, small town of Meriden, New Hampshire, a world which we explore in staggering detail over the course of The Silver Gymnasium's 11 tracks - discovering it through the memories of 10 year-old Will Sheff. In a lot of ways it's a truly typical American upbringing, however, Sheff brings out the magical in the mundane.

Like any coming-of-age story, there are tales of lost love and escapism. Lead single 'It Was My Season' accurately paints the utter devastation of young love ("If you want to stop our 'thing' you'll stop heart"), contrasting the melodrama of the lyrics with its upbeat piano part. On album highlight 'Lido Pier Suicide' there are hints of 80s era Springsteen. Following a slow-burning four minute guitar intro, the song explodes into life, telling of a young man's yearning to explore beyond the world he knows and reach out for the glamorous life beyond ("No, I've got to leave... It's a straight shot drive to a life full of stars.").

It's not just the album's subject matter which has gone through the time machine either; as producer John Agnello, who worked on 80s pop staples such as Cyndi Lauper, was enlisted to re-capture some of the era's spirit onto tape. There's a sense of a really authentic, holistic approach to The Silver Gymnasium, with the album's sleeve including a beautiful hand-drawn map of his hometown, and even an 8-bit game being created for the album's promotional material.

In spite of the record's many successes - with classic indie rock bawler 'White', and synth-laden 'Stay Young' being two particular highlights - there are some disappointments. The album's closing three tracks make for fairly weak listening, with the awkwardly monotonous, 'Walking Without Frankie', being a particularly poor showing. At times on these tracks the album's strength in its detailed, autobiographical nature, turns into a weakness - making its subject matter difficult to fully understand and relate to.

As with most of us, these formative years hold a special place for our narrator, however, it's testament to Sheff that he doesn't over-romanticise this time, humbly referring about himself on behalf of his hometown in closer, 'Black Nemo': "I know you think you knew him, but you were just passing through him." In creating this autobiographical album Sheff has given us an insight into his childhood, as well as an opportunity cast our minds back and bathe in the nostalgia of our own.