Release Date: Jun 24, 2014
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Strand Of Oaks‘ loudest and most emotionally direct album yet, HEAL, is akin to primal scream therapy, and in that context, the capitalisation of its title is entirely appropriate. Long gone is the quiet folk and in its place is, primarily, raucous, loud, and emotional rock. Lyrically Tim Showalter (for he is Strand Of Oaks) pulls no punches in addressing his life in stark and honest terms.
Following his last album, 2012’s Dark Shores, Philly’s Timothy Showalter needed a change. Showalter, aka Strand of Oaks, was disappointed in the record, his hurting relationship, and himself in general. After two years of avoiding those issues through incessant touring, the Philadelphia-based musician reached his breaking point. HEAL, his fourth LP, first on label Dead Oceans, and loudest offering yet, is the conquering result of Showalter’s troubled period.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. One of the curious things about recorded music is that it's an eternal document of a certain moment in time, an inerasable signature of emotions and memories that the artist - however many years on from that point where 'record' was pressed on the tape machine (yes, yes, how very retro of me) - will never escape, no matter how hard they try. I've often wondered if that contributed to the slow decline and death of Jason Molina; while the word "try" recurred as a hopeful leitmotif through his songs, especially from Magnolia Electric Co.onwards, it was an empty catharsis as Molina couldn't outrun the wolves, shadows and snakes that crowded his work as Songs:Ohia.
Strand Of Oaks is the record-making alter ego of Timothy Showalter, who heretofore was known for hushed acoustic records. One would never know that from the thunderous, invigorating evidence found on his new album Heal. Showalter has jacked up the musical intensity to match his fearless, often harrowing lyrics, and the results are stellar. The album opens with the .38 Special blast of “Goshen ‘97”, a clear-eyed retrospective of Showalter’s indoctrination to making music.
“I was just an Indiana kid, getting no one in my bed,” sings Timothy Showalter, a.k.a. Strand of Oaks, “but I had your sweet tunes to play.” That song, mysteriously titled “JM”, recounts long afternoons spent rebelling against his parents, smoking in his car, hating all his friends, and playing JM’s sweet tunes at presumably high volume. The guitars swell and crash around him, then lumber into the kind of crunchy jam that once upon a time had teenage misfits pumping fists or raising lighters in unison.
Tim Showalter is probably not the Samuel R. Delany of indie rock. The latter has, with consistent genius, crossed the imagined literary border demarcating the imagined differences between the world of the science fictional, the fantastic and the speculative, and the world of the confessional, cathartic, and memoiristic. Delany builds sci-fi novels and fantasy series around literary theory and neo-Marxist thought; he expands questions of queerness and gender into populated moons and far-future worlds.
To talk about Tim Showalter’s personal history and hear about him fighting with an overcoming various dark times makes him seem like so many singer-songwriters. But the wonderful thing about Showalter’s music, the conduit through which he filters these hard times and perhaps finds some meaning in them, is that with each release he complicates our understanding of him and, really, of what we should expect from singer-songwriter records. Leave Ruin was exposed nerve and personal details, but Pope Kildragon filtered the same deep emotional connection through absurdity and fantastic imagery.
The Dead Oceans debut from Goshen, Indiana-based songwriter Timothy Showalter, better known by his plant-based alias Strand of Oaks, Heal arrives after a period of personal tumult and self-reflection, and its ten tracks spend a considerable amount of time exploring its author's formative years, referencing everything from plastic Casio keyboards and "Singing Pumpkins in the mirror" to lost loves, skinny dipping, and the enduring works of the late Jason Molina, who is properly eulogized on the epic, Crazy Horse-kissed "JM. " Musically, Showalter draws from the same pool of familiar sounds as fellow neo-classic rock/overshare pop artists like the War on Drugs, Phosphorescent, the Low Anthem, and My Morning Jacket -- J. Mascis sits in on lead guitar on the blistering, appropriately titled opener "Goshen 97" -- but he's got a flair for electro-pop as well, even if songs like "Same Emotions" and the propulsive title cut sound like they should be followed up by a quick Casey Kasem recap.
HEAL, Philadelphia-based mopester Timothy Showalter’s third album as Strand of Oaks, is a sonic reinvention of sorts. By definition, mopesters are raw, damaged goods, and Showalter’s first two albums, Leave Ruin and Pope Kildragon, had their share of woebegone, poetic odes to failed romance and general malaise and despair. HEAL, however, takes it up a notch, both thematically and sonically.
“I was born in the middle, maybe too late, everything good had been made,” begins “Shut In,” a mid-album track on Strand Of Oaks’ Heal that sounds like Jim James doing an impression of Bruce Springsteen. The artist behind the project, Tim Showalter, thankfully doesn’t still believe this line. His fifth album as Strand Of Oaks functions as an argument against the idea, citing specific examples of great contemporaries and influences while simultaneously revealing itself to be far beyond good.
opinions bySAMUEL TOLZMANN < @scatlint > Shamir, Northtown Pop music is teenaged Las Vegas singer-songwriter-producer Shamir Bailey’s oyster. His debut EP, Northtown, boasts five songs that sound like the work of the same utterly unique artistic voice without sounding much like one another, and which hearken back to very specific eras of America’s musical past without losing their grip on the here and now. Early single “If It Wasn’t True” is a classy disco kiss-off; “I Know It’s A Good Thing” rides a repetitive, vampy piano phrase like the hollowed-out memory of an classic house song.
On his third record, the shimmering, righteously all-caps HEAL, Timothy Showalter is on his own, listening to all his favourite musicians: Jason Molina, Sharon Van Etten and the Smashing Pumpkins. Their songs are anthemic: they're the only thing he's got, or else they're the best advice he can get his hands on. It doesn't matter, as long as they're there.
?Timothy Showalter’s last release under the Strand Of Oaks moniker was the effervescent Pope Killdragon release way back in 2010 – and boy, what a record that was. If, like me, you picked up on it because you were searching through the ‘If you like this’ recommendations on Amazon (it recommended Strand of Oaks ‘If you liked’ Low, I think. Or Alexander Tucker), then you’ll probably have enjoyed it immensely.