Strand of Oaks
Strand of Oaks is the project of Philadelphia’s Timothy Showalter, and Eraserland is his 6th album. Showalter makes what we in the critic business call ‘heartland rock.’ But, when I think of that term, I think of John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, and it’s 1985 and it’s impossible to escape the long shadow of these giants. I’m still running against the wind, I guess. You could also call this ‘Americana,’ but that usually means more countrified stuff like Jason Isbell. But, then again, a couple of weeks was on Colbert playing a track off this album, ‘Ruby,’ with Isbell and his wife and partner, Amanda Shires amongst his backing band. Whatever, Strand of Oaks play rock’n’roll. But there is this 70s AOR feel to some of this.
Funnily enough, I hear all kinds of other things in his music, including Courtney Barnett and Sharon van Etten, especially in the way Showalter delivers his lyrics. As for those lyrics, Eraserland is about adulting. Adulting means insecurities and doing difficult things and not getting a fucking gold star for your efforts [Note to editor: Where’s my fucking gold star?]. But if you come for the lyrics and their delivery, stay for the music.
As my wife would say, this is Matthew Music™. It’s laid back, it feels like California. There are gentle rhythms, the bass and drums roll and come to crescendos and then roll back out. Guitars slide along, over the rhythm section, and then explode out of nowhere into squalls of reverb and feedback, before subsiding again.
My favourite track is ‘Visions,’ which is all Sharon van Etten in vocal delivery, as Showalter talks about, well, the joys of adulting. After informing us that 2017 was the year which tried its best to take the magic from him, Showalter sings in the chorus:
Visions, I can hear them
I can barely even tell what’s real
Visions, nothing’s happened
I swear I won’t go down so easy.
I’m not being facetious, this is a very real feeling for anyone who has tried to be a grown up in the world today. Life isn’t easy, and the challenges are never-ending. We’ve all that those years that tried to take the magic away from us, for me, it was 2016. And as the song progresses, the bass and drums roll along, but the guitars quake and threaten, they roar and they slide down over everything.
My other favourite track is ‘Moon Landing,’ which starts off with a slinky rhythm section, as Showalter’s guitar hit, and he sings about Malcolm Young’s death, and how Young just played, he didn’t fuck around with effects, just played. ‘Moon Landing’ hits harder, a more rocked out song, and again, at least for me, it’s the guitars, laden with the effects pedals, and arriving in squalls and reverb.
Eraserland may not break any new ground sonically, but it’s a damn fine album nonetheless.