โ€œBillโ€™s Picksโ€ is a new column weโ€™ll feature right here on our blog each week featuring a new release selected and reviewed by our smartest employee, William Boyleโ€“known as Bill to most folks. Bill is from Brooklyn, NY butย lives in Oxford now. He is the author of the novel GRAVESEND and the story collection DEATH DONโ€™T HAVE NO MERCY. ย You can find him behind the counter at the record store on Sundays and Mondays. ย You can buy his books at Square Books in Oxford.ย 

Read Bill’s Picks below…

craig finn okkervil river

Two picks this time. Craig Finnโ€™s Faith in the Future, one of the best releases of 2015, and the 10th anniversary edition reissue of Okkervil Riverโ€™s Black Sheep Boy (out this week). Craig Finn and Will Sheff are two of the best short story pop song writers out there, so these records have in common lyrics thatโ€™ll kick you hard in the heart.

Faith in the Future is easily Finnโ€™s best work since The Hold Steadyโ€™s Stay Positive. No one uses names and places like Finn; they give his songs an immediacy and intimacy. If you know his records with Lifter Puller and The Hold Steady, then youโ€™re familiar with the kind of desperate characters he writes about and the desperate situations he puts them in. Finnโ€™s punk narratives are always cut with larger meditations on faith and doubt and sin, which lends them a mystical weight. Standout tracks here are โ€œMaggie, Iโ€™ve Been Searching for Our Son,โ€ โ€œNewmyerโ€™s Roof,โ€ โ€œSarah, Calling from a Hotel,โ€ โ€œGoing to a Show,โ€ โ€œChristine,โ€ and โ€œI Was Doing Fine (Then a Few People Died),โ€ though there isnโ€™t a weak song in the lot. In fact, this is a pretty perfect record. If punk noir vignettes are your thing, you canโ€™t do better in 2015. Or ever really.

In late 2001, my wife (girlfriend back then) and I moved to Austin, Texas from New York. 33 Degrees on Guadalupe was one of my main haunts. Okkervil Riverโ€™s Donโ€™t Fall in Love with Everyone You See was the first record I bought there. I was sold after hearing โ€œRedโ€ at the listening station. We saw Okkervil River three times while living in Austinโ€”at a coffee shop, opening for Daniel Johnston, one other time at a club on 6th Street. They became our favorite band. We were back in New York when their second record, Down the River of Golden Dreams, dropped. Like their first, it was great but flawed. It was their third record, Black Sheep Boy, released in 2005, that found them firing on all cylinders, the whole record a gust of desperate genius. Here was a band going for it full-tilt boogie. The record had this feel like if it didnโ€™t take hold, if people didnโ€™t care about it, that these guys might not be a band anymore. But they were, they are. They havenโ€™t released a bad or even mediocre record, but Black Sheep Boy remains their masterpiece. With Tim Hardinโ€™s โ€œBlack Sheep Boyโ€ as a sort of prologue, Sheff swirled up his other biggest influencesโ€”Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston, The Rock*A*Teens, Bill Fay, Jeff Mangumโ€”and splattered them on a dark canvas like shards of broken moonlight. โ€œFor Real,โ€ โ€œBlack,โ€ โ€œThe Latest Toughs,โ€ โ€œSong of Our So-Called Friend,โ€ and โ€œSo Come Back, I Am Waitingโ€ are the standout tracks on the album proper. Also collected in this triple LP set reissue are the Black Sheep Boy Appendix, a companion EP originally released later in 2005 (featuring the great โ€œNo Key, No Planโ€), and an LP of unreleased folk covers (including a beautiful take on Washington Phillipsโ€™s โ€œWhat Are They Doing in Heaven Today?โ€). Relistening to the record, Iโ€™m struck again by the power of Sheffโ€™s songwriting. I really wish people appreciated this band more. If youโ€™ve never heard them, this is the perfect place to start.