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Category Archives: Bill’s Picks

Bill’s Picks: Little Wings & Mount Eerie

“Bill’s Picks” is a new column we’ll feature right here on our blog each week featuring a new release selected and reviewed by our smartest employee, William Boyle–known as Bill to most folks. Bill is from Brooklyn, NY but lives in Oxford now. He is the author of the novel GRAVESEND and the story collection DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY.  You can find him behind the counter at the record store on Sundays and Mondays.  You can buy his books at Square Books in Oxford. 

Bill picks Light Green Leaves by Little Wings and No Flashlight by Mount Eerie. 

Two of my favorite records of the 2000s. Two essential reissues.

light green leavesLight Green Leaves was originally released in 2002 on three formats (CD, LP, and cassette) in three different versions. The CD was the definitive studio album, the LP and cassette included sketches and rougher versions of the songs. This reissue is the first time that the definitive CD version has been put out on vinyl. For that reason alone, it’s worth picking up. It’s a record that has never left heavy rotation for me. When it came out, I’d just graduated college and was in wandering mode. It’s a perfect album for creek swimming, for windows down mountain-driving, for beer-drinking in the front yard. It’s pliable and pleasant, soft and silly. When my wife and I had kids, I also realized it’s a great children’s record. Try not to goof off with your kids to “Boom!” or “Uh-Oh (It’s Morningtime Again).” In that way, Kyle Field echoes Harry Nilsson. The comparison doesn’t end there. Field’s best songs—“Look at What the Light Did Now,” “Fall Flood,” and “Light Green Leaves”—have the same sort of shape and sparkle as Nilsson’s best. There’s no irony here, only goofiness and sweet wonder. Gnome Life Records, responsible for this excellent reissue, calls this “drifter-pop” and says the songs, like their singer, are “open-hearted ramblers.” Couldn’t agree more. Pick this up and let it soundtrack your summer.

mount eerieMy intro to Kyle Fields’s Little Wings came through K Records compatriot Phil Elverum’s The Microphones. It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water and The Glow, Pt. 2 were end-of- college staples for me. Elverum’s last album as The Microphones was 2003’s Mount Eerie. After that, in a move echoing Jason Molina’s switch from Songs: Ohia to Magnolia Electric Co., Elverum started recording as Mount Eerie. 2005’s No Flashlight was his first major release under this new moniker (and, I could be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the first releases on his own label, PW Elverum & Sun, Ltd., still going strong). No Flashlight, remastered and reissued here, is a difficult and beautiful masterpiece. It’s a record that’s revealed itself slowly to me over the last decade. I visited Anacortes, Washington in 2007 and stood on Mount Eerie. These lines from opener “I Know No One” rattled in my head: “Knowing no one will understand these songs, I try to sing them clearer / Even though no one has ever asked, ‘What does Mount Eerie mean?’ / I have tried to repeatedly explain in complicated songs / But tonight we will try to find out / I know no one and no one knows me.” I was at the beginning of understanding then. Older now, I see new things. It’s on this album that Elverum transforms into a modern day Li Po. Asking questions, making observations, letting nature work through him. These songs are free of attachment, ethereal, and profound. They have some sort of mystical sludgy storm-magic.

Also, Elverum broke some sad news the other day. Help, if you can. 

Bill’s Picks: Richmond Fontaine’s final album

“Bill’s Picks” is a new column we’ll feature right here on our blog each week featuring a new release selected and reviewed by our smartest employee, William Boyle–known as Bill to most folks. Bill is from Brooklyn, NY but lives in Oxford now. He is the author of the novel GRAVESEND and the story collection DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY.  You can find him behind the counter at the record store on Sundays and Mondays.  You can buy his books at Square Books in Oxford. 

Read Bill’s Picks below…

richmond fontaine

Richmond Fontaine’s You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To is a hell of a last act for the band. They’ve been a model of consistency for twenty-two years, but circumstances have forced them to call it quits. And, as the greats tend to do, they’ve ended things gracefully, making one of their best records.

To be clear: I’d follow Willy Vlautin anywhere. He’s my favorite novelist (please go read The Motel Life, Northline, Lean On Pete, and The Free, if you haven’t) and one of my favorite songwriters, up in the top tier for me with Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Shane MacGowan, Bruce Springsteen, Jason Molina, and Neko Case. No one these days does story-songs like Vlautin. Imagine the Springsteen of Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River mixed with the John Doe of early X and throw in some of Dead Moon’s reckless spirit, and you’ll begin to understand where Vlautin is coming from.

Genre-wise, the music isn’t easily classifiable. Richmond Fontaine often gets tucked neatly into the Americana section, but I think that does them a disservice. Country Noir is closer to the truth. Really, though, they’re the band playing on the corner stage of some sad casino while a broken down gambler spends his last grand on a card game and a leathery showgirl drinks vodka tonics on the arm at the bar while watching the races. If that sounds good to you, well then, you’ll strike gold here.

When asked where to start with Richmond Fontaine, I usually point folks to Post to Wire, but you can’t really go wrong and this would actually be a perfect place to start too. Don’t be intimidated by the cast of characters. Many of them show up in previous Richmond Fontaine songs and Vlautin is, in effect, giving them their endings, but that doesn’t mean you’ll feel lost; these songs, on the contrary, definitely function as standalones, even if their overall feel is novelistic.

Vlautin’s voice is at its lonesomest here. When he makes proclamations like “Let’s hit one more place / before we go home,” it wraps up the hope and despair inherent in any life on the margins. His songs are peopled with wrecks and fuck-ups whose best memories involve going on drunks for days and never fighting, whose biggest hopes are that their pals don’t run on out on them when they’re sleeping. These are men and women who are perpetually on the ropes. “My mom worked in an office down that street / You could always see her on her break on the back steps, smoking / Dressed up and worried, she was always broke and worried about everything,” the narrator of “I Can’t Black It Out If I Wake Up and Remember” laments. As in his books, Vlautin can knock you down and lift you up at the same time. He gives you these quiet, gut-punch moments. And he’s a master of details. Take the character in “Whitey and Me” with the “I stole more than I ever gave” tattoo on the back of his hand.

Time doesn’t mean anything to Vlautin’s characters. How can it when you’re “already sinking at 16, 19, and 20,” as is the case with the bad luck brothers of “Three Brothers Roll into Town.” The narrator of “I Got Off the Bus” tells us: “I know what you abandon dies / What you leave leaves you too / I know you can’t go back / if there’s nothing to go back to.” These songs deal with defeat, sure, but there’s always some possibility off in the distance, some chance of staying clean, not fucking up, living right. “Do you think an easy run will find me?” the narrator of “Easy Run” asks, a desperate prayer for good luck. It’s a perfect note to end Richmond Fontaine on.

My favorite tracks: “Wake Up Ray,” “Whitey and Me (Don’t Ride Him Down),” “Let’s Hit One More Place,” “Don’t Skip Out On Me,” “Tapped Out in Tulsa,” “A Night in the City,” and “Easy Run”

Bill’s Picks: Julien Baker “Sprained Ankle”

“Bill’s Picks” is a new column we’ll feature right here on our blog each week featuring a new release selected and reviewed by our smartest employee, William Boyle–known as Bill to most folks. Bill is from Brooklyn, NY but lives in Oxford now. He is the author of the novel GRAVESEND and the story collection DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY.  You can find him behind the counter at the record store on Sundays and Mondays.  You can buy his books at Square Books in Oxford. 

Read Bill’s Picks below…

julien baker

Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle is my favorite release of 2015. The vinyl has been delayed, but it’s out now and in stock at the store and you should get it. Maybe you know Baker’s story—that she’s just 20-years-old, a product of Memphis, has been making great music with Forrister/The Star Killers for years. I didn’t know any of that when my pal Jimmy texted me about her last summer. He knew I’d love her. He knew the part of me that gets lost in the work of Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen would get lost in Julien Baker too. The first song I heard, “Brittle Boned,” was amazing and stayed with me, but the whole record, when I finally streamed it in the fall, slammed me. I love a lot of music; I’m often blown away by the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Water Liars and Mark Kozelek and Damien Jurado and Will Oldham. Add Sprained Ankle to the list of truly miraculous records I’ve heard over the last decade or so. When you listen to it, you crawl up inside of it like a hideout. This is the kind of raw, perfect stuff that I’m always after, be it in music, literature, or film. Baker’s voice reminds me of Carolyn Berk of Lovers, and she’s got the same ability to shatter you with a line. The voice is what hits you first, but everything else is equally as stunning. That guitar. Lyrics as honest and cutting as I’ve seen recently. Take this line from the title track: “Wish I could write songs about / anything other than death / But I can’t go to bed without / drawing the red, shaving off breaths.” My favorite song is “Rejoice.” Rarely have I heard yearning expressed so sincerely. There’s a loneliness here, a deep well of anguish and hope. In that way, Baker’s songs remind me of Jason Molina’s early Songs: Ohia material, when he too was a kid who seemed to have seen it all, to have just returned from some mystical journey. I can give you a long list of reasons why Sprained Ankle hits me so hard, but I don’t feel like I should say too much more about it. It’s too good, too special to ruin with talk. Let the album do its work. I can tell you this: Driving back to New York for the holidays, spinning Sprained Ankle on repeat, I hit a particularly desolate stretch of road in Western Pennsylvania and, as “Rejoice” came on, I cried for everything that is and ever was. That’s rare magic.

julien baker 2

Bill’s Picks: Craig Finn “Faith in the Future” & Okkervil River “Black Sheep Boy” (10th Anniversary Edition)

“Bill’s Picks” is a new column we’ll feature right here on our blog each week featuring a new release selected and reviewed by our smartest employee, William Boyle–known as Bill to most folks. Bill is from Brooklyn, NY but lives in Oxford now. He is the author of the novel GRAVESEND and the story collection DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY.  You can find him behind the counter at the record store on Sundays and Mondays.  You can buy his books at Square Books in Oxford. 

Read Bill’s Picks below…

craig finn okkervil river

Two picks this time. Craig Finn’s Faith in the Future, one of the best releases of 2015, and the 10th anniversary edition reissue of Okkervil River’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 that’ll kick you hard in the heart.

Faith in the Future is easily Finn’s best work since The Hold Steady’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 you’re familiar with the kind of desperate characters he writes about and the desperate situations he puts them in. Finn’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 “Maggie, I’ve Been Searching for Our Son,” “Newmyer’s Roof,” “Sarah, Calling from a Hotel,” “Going to a Show,” “Christine,” and “I Was Doing Fine (Then a Few People Died),” though there isn’t a weak song in the lot. In fact, this is a pretty perfect record. If punk noir vignettes are your thing, you can’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 River’s Don’t Fall in Love with Everyone You See was the first record I bought there. I was sold after hearing “Red” at the listening station. We saw Okkervil River three times while living in Austin—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 didn’t take hold, if people didn’t care about it, that these guys might not be a band anymore. But they were, they are. They haven’t released a bad or even mediocre record, but Black Sheep Boy remains their masterpiece. With Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy” as a sort of prologue, Sheff swirled up his other biggest influences—Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston, The Rock*A*Teens, Bill Fay, Jeff Mangum—and splattered them on a dark canvas like shards of broken moonlight. “For Real,” “Black,” “The Latest Toughs,” “Song of Our So-Called Friend,” and “So Come Back, I Am Waiting” 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 “No Key, No Plan”), and an LP of unreleased folk covers (including a beautiful take on Washington Phillips’s “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?”). Relistening to the record, I’m struck again by the power of Sheff’s songwriting. I really wish people appreciated this band more. If you’ve never heard them, this is the perfect place to start.

Bill’s Picks: Beach Slang “The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us”

“Bill’s Picks” is a new column we’ll feature right here on our blog each week featuring a new release selected and reviewed by our smartest employee, William Boyle–known as Bill to most folks. Bill is from Brooklyn, NY but lives in Oxford now. He is the author of the novel GRAVESEND and the story collection DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY.  You can find him behind the counter at the record store on Sundays and Mondays.  You can buy his books at Square Books in Oxford.

beach slang cover

The inaugural selection for “Bill’s Picks” is the new record from Beach Slang, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us released by Polyvinyl Records.

Here’s Bill’s pick: 

Beach Slang’s The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is a wild dream, one where I’m a kid again, getting wrecked by songs I’m hearing for the first time but have somehow always known. “I feel most alive when I’m listening to every record that hits harder than the pain,” James Snyder sings on “Ride the Wild Haze.” The titles tell the full story: It’s important to make bad art before you get to the good, to have a head full of weirdo ideas, to be a misfit, to find a safe place with other hard luck kids, other awkward throwaways. These songs vibe ‘90s in the best way. Not retro fake. Snyder, in his 40s, has mainlined The ‘Mats. He’s got that Westerberg-like ability to make the simple sacred. He’s been broken and has had runs of rotten luck, but now shit’s good and he hasn’t lost track of what’s truly important: love and honesty and gratitude and purity and those records that switched your brain. Repetition of words like young, alive, heart, love, loud, wild, and free are touchstones as Snyder drills into the deep darkness to a core of confused magic. These songs get into your blood, and—no hyperbole here—this record can save you if you’ll let it. Get safe, the call to arms goes, feel young and alive, turn your heart up. What you first loved about music, Snyder’s saying, the nameless thing you go to songs for, that’s what really matters. This LP is concise as hell, no fat whatsoever, stripped to the bone, and it hits hard the way the best punk albums do. A beautiful assault. Even my son, four- years-old and tough on the music I’m into, digs this one. “This I like,” he said to me the other day, bopping his head, as I played “Too Late To Die Young” for the fifth time in twenty minutes. Turn The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us up loud, brothers and sisters. Let it save you.  -Bill Boyle

 

beach slangWe have the limited, purple vinyl version for sale in the shop.