Even with the advanced press about Timothy Showalter’s – a.k.a. Strand of Oaks – fourth full-length album, Heal, that listed J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. as a guest musician and images posted on Facebook that showed Showalter rocking hard, it was still a surprise, and a pleasant one, to hear an album inspired by 70s, 80s, and 90s rock. On his previous albums, Showalter recorded mellow folk-rock albums that were often times deep and dense, and there was a part of me still expecting a similar sound.
On Heal, Showalter adopted a different style and approach, which is introduced right from the beginning with the rocking “Goshen 97” that features J. Mascis on guitar. It’s also a fine introduction to why Showalter decided to produce a rock album, as “Goshen 97” tells the story of Showalter’s adolescence and the music that inspired him, including unabashedly recalling listening and singing to albums by The Smashing Pumpkins.
But on the title track, the album’s second song, the main theme of Heal resonates – that of personal crisis and responsibility. As Showalter has openly revealed in several interviews (Grantland, Stereogum) and on his website, much of the album was written during a difficult time in his life, as he learned about his wife’s infidelity and his own struggles with addiction. On “Heal”, he doesn’t put all the blame on his wife, but also admits that he is responsible for his own plight and near self-destruction. And as he beckons “You gotta heal!” at the climatic point of the song, it is a calling to not just to his listeners but to himself – a call to move on and to learn. Later in the album, however, “Mirage Year” is written with his wife’s lover in mind, and he holds nothing back about the individual.
“Shut In”, the superb second single that was publicly released, reveals the solitary existence that Showalter lived for nearly two years, where he spent his days on tour and avoiding the complications in his life. “Same Emotions” adopts an ’80s synth-rock vibe that builds on the theme of “Shut In”, but focusing on how his feelings never changed despite the changes happening around him.
“Woke Up to the Light” is a mellow ’80s-style tune, akin to fellow Philadelphia residents The War on Drugs’ approach on their latest album. The song is dreamy yet chilling, as the imagery that Showalter presents is one that many of us have experienced – that perfect moment you share with a loved one but then is all jeopardized by an incident, an accident, or distance. However, you never want the light to go out; instead, you want to recapture that moment once again. “Plymouth” follows the same style, but it is the antithesis of “Woke Up to the Light”. Instead of seeking to relive the past, Showalter sings about how new beginnings are possible.
“JM”, meanwhile, was written in memory of Jason Molina, who died last year due to organ failure related to his own alcohol abuse. On this track, Showalter writes about the influence and struggles of Molina, reflecting Molina’s experiences with his own. The song is a slow-burner, building and building into a reverb, fuzz combination to give the track the feeling of confusion and lost.
The album ends the way it begins – with a rocker of a song. On “For Me”, it’s about redemption, reconciliation, and recovery. As Showalter has stated, the album was written in many ways as being a means for him to cope with everything that was happening around him and within himself. It was therapeutic and helped him accept what was happening.
It is through this blatant honesty and writing about the struggles that many of us go through which make Heal a resounding and remarkable album. Where as many us may be speechless in describing our emotion, Showalter provides the words that we wish we would have said when presented with the same situation. Yet Heal is also an album that represents more than just Showalter’s growth as an individual; it also represents his progression as a musician. By extending himself to new sounds, styles, and landscapes, he has put himself in a vulnerable position where he could easily fail. Instead, he has succeeded, in large part because he was willing to open himself to the world and at the end of the day create an album he wanted to create. Yet at the same time, it is an album that many will completely gravitate to.
Timothy Showalter and the rest of Strand of Oaks will start a lengthy tour this summer, traversing the US and Europe. Tour dates are below. Unfortunately, Showalter and friends won’t be stopping in Ottawa, but they will be in Montreal in early August.
6/24 – Montauk, NY @ Surf Lodge
6/26 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
6/27 – Philadelphia, PA @ WXPN World Cafe Free at Noon
7/29 – Pontiac, MI @ Pike Room at the Crofoot
7/30 – Chicago, IL @ House of Blues (with Interpol)
7/31 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern
8/01 – Columbus, OH @ The Basement
8/07 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
8/08 – Burlington, VT @ Showcase Lounge
8/09 – Montreal, QC @ Il Motore
8/11 – Toronto, ON @ The Drake
8/12 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Café
8/14 – Cincinnati, OH @ MOTR Pub
8/15 – Bloomington, IN @ Russian Recording
8/16 – Goshen, IN @ Ignition Music Garage
8/18 – Milwaukee, WI @ Pabst Theater
8/19 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry
8/21 – St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway
8/22 – Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
8/23 – Denver, CO @ Hi Dive
8/24 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
8/26 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
8/28 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
8/30 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
8/31 – Santa Cruz, CA @ The Crepe Place
9/3 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
9/4 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah
9/5 – Phoenix, AZ @ Last Exit
9/7 – Dallas, TX @ Three Links
9/9 – Austin, TX @ Lambert’s
9/10 – Birmingham, AL @ The Bottletree
9/11 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
9/12 – Nashville, TN @ The High Watt
9/13 – Durham, NC @ Pinhook
9/14 – Washington, DC @ DC9
9/19 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
9/27 – EKKO, Utrecht (NL)
9/28 – Trix, Antwerp (BE)
9/29 – Bermuda Triangle, Brighton (UK)
9/30 – The Lexington, London (UK)
10/1 – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (UK)
10/2 – Mono, Glasgow (UK)
10/3 – Whelan’s, Dublin (IR)
10/4 – Deaf Institute, Manchester (UK)
10/5 – The Louisiana, Bristol (UK)
10/6 – 4AD, Diksmuide (BE)
10/8 – Merleyn, Nijmegen (NL)
10/9 – Privatclub, Berlin (DE)
10/10 – Ideal Bar, Copenhagen (DK)
10/11 – Pustervik, Gothenburg (SE)
10/12 – John Dee, Oslo (NO)
10/13 – Lilla Hotellbaren, Stockholm (SE)
10/14 – Podnik, Prague (CZ)
10/16 – Chelsea, Vienna (AT)
10/17 – Mattatoio, Carpi (IT)
10/18 – Bronson, Ravenna (IT)
10/20 – 75 Beat, Milan (IT)
10/21 – Bad Bonn, Duedingen (CH)
10/22 – Espace B, Paris (FR)
10/23 – Blue Shell, Cologne (DE)
10/24 – Paradiso, Amsterdam (NL)
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