Bills Picks is a new column well feature right here on our blog each week featuring a new release selected and reviewed by our smartest employee, William Boyleknown as Bill to most folks. Bill is from Brooklyn, NY butlives in Oxford now. He is the author of the novel GRAVESEND and the story collection DEATH DONT 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 Finns Faith in the Future, one of the best releases of 2015, and the 10th anniversary edition reissue of Okkervil Rivers 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 thatll kick you hard in the heart.

Faith in the Future is easily Finns best work since The Hold Steadys 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 youre familiar with the kind of desperate characters he writes about and the desperate situations he puts them in. Finns 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, Ive Been Searching for Our Son, Newmyers Roof, Sarah, Calling from a Hotel, Going to a Show, Christine, and I Was Doing Fine (Then a Few People Died), though there isnt a weak song in the lot. In fact, this is a pretty perfect record. If punk noir vignettes are your thing, you cant 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 Rivers Dont 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 Austinat 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 didnt take hold, if people didnt care about it, that these guys might not be a band anymore. But they were, they are. They havent released a bad or even mediocre record, but Black Sheep Boy remains their masterpiece. With Tim Hardins Black Sheep Boy as a sort of prologue, Sheff swirled up his other biggest influencesRoky Erickson, Daniel Johnston, The Rock*A*Teens, Bill Fay, Jeff Mangumand 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 Phillipss What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?). Relistening to the record, Im struck again by the power of Sheffs songwriting. I really wish people appreciated this band more. If youve never heard them, this is the perfect place to start.