Release Date: Feb 17, 2017
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Strand Of Oaks new album, Hard Love, is equal measures escape and preservation for Tim Showalter. The nine assured, sprawling new songs reflect both a desperate search for meaning and significance in a world that doesn't value the truth as much as it should, as well as a desire to forge a deep connection with something - and someone - real, while we still have the time. On Hard Love, Showalter brazenly leaves his folkier, electro-tinged past behind him in favor of a more visceral, potent sound.
With Hard Love, the churning, confessional beauty of Strand of Oaks' last album, 2014's HEAL, is present, but there is an added ruthlessness. Hard Love delivers frontman Tim Showalter's hard stuff in exponents. Add this depth of relay onto Showalter's loaded visions, and it sounds as if the universe itself is groaning. We are out of our seats for this one.
The Upshot: Probing songs that, while noisy and raucous, don't sacrifice intimacy and tunefulness. BY MICHAEL TOLAND Sensitive folkie by day, wild-eyed rock & roller at night, Tim Showalter has led a double life in his guise as Strand of Oaks. The Philadelphia act's records tended to lean harder on melodic introspection, while the tour for 2014's acclaimed Heal reveled in ear-punishing volume and the joy of rock abandon.
The follow-up to 2014's spirited Heal, Hard Love finds Strand of Oaks mastermind Tim Showalter once again dialing back on the confessional folk-rock of his earlier outings, and unleashing a full-on garage/basement-blasted, dub-kissed, acid rock exposé. Raw in both tone and tenor, the nine-track set uses the hedonism of life on the road and its effects on relationships back home as its narrative footing, and in doing so, delivers the group's most soul-baring and ramshackle set to date. The notion that musicians are hardly paragons of decency is nothing new, but Showalter doesn't shy away from extrapolating on the fact that there are as many good times to be had on the rock & roll merry-go-round as there are mishaps.
Timothy Showalter, a.k.a. Strand of Oaks, hasn't led the easiest adult life. Divorce, homelessness, a serious car accident that led to several broken ribs; it's been a struggle, much of it making its way into his three previous albums. With the fourth, Hard Love, he continues to express the trials of everyday life through his unique brand of psychedelic electro-folk.
Following his critically adored fourth album HEAL in 2014, Timothy Showalter (aka Strand of Oaks) bares his teeth on the followup Hard Love, shedding his folk and folk-rock designation for a bluesy, grungy effort that's firmly and unabashedly rock'n'roll. It's rough around the edges but still soft, sensitive and introspective where it matters. While HEAL was a brave personal journey through Showalter's harrowing past and how it shaped him, his latest is a reckoning with worries and shortcomings now, in the present tense.
On 2014's HEAL , his fifth album as Strand of Oaks, Timothy Showalter emerged as his own most compelling lead character. Showalter was a grown-up adolescent still mired in dark thoughts and intense desires: for the opposite sex, for self-eradication through drugs or worse, for his favorite song to come on the radio. Making or simply listening to music was a lifeline out of the confusion of youth and the disappointments of adulthood, which informed a song cycle simultaneously bleak and optimistic, as big as an arena yet as personal as an inner monologue.
His previous albums have found Tim Showalter, aka Strand Of Oaks, scanning the emotional debris of his often troubled life through a prism of folk, power-pop and electronica. New album Hard Love is altogether more bullish, Showalter unleashing his inner rock beast on a collection of songs that seem to reach for some kind of epiphany through sheer volume. With a biker riff indebted to both Primal Scream and The Cult, not to mention an admirable guitar solo from Jason Anderson, the mighty Rest Of It is a good-time party in celebration of all things decadent.