“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…
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.