Oaks’ “Galacticana” is winning teaser slice of forthcoming “Heaven”

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Strand of Oaks is the moniker created by Timothy Showalter, a 38-year old Indiana-born musician (and former Hebrew school teacher) who broke onto the scene in 2009 with album Leave Ruin.

I crossed paths with Showalter’s Oaks project in 2014, a year in which Tim’s album HEAL was a constant topic of conversation around indie rock circles. This was for good reason, as HEAL remains a desperately beautiful, screamingly raw, deeply delving insight into the deathly horror of mental, personal breakdown and the resurrection of finding the healing hope and reasons to still go on.

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HEAL also was speaking a lot to what I was feeling then. I had recently enjoyed being introduced to Dinosaur Jr’s brilliant J Mascis only to find his enigmatic guitar playing on “Goshen 97”, while the aching of loss I felt for Songs: Ohia musician Jason Molina after his tragic death at 39 was perfectly eulogized in the rattling “JM”. Even bonus track covers of Ryan Adams’ “My Wrecking Ball” and The National’s “Pink Rabbits” fit in line with other artists that obsessed me at the time.

HEAL is a true “complete” album without a misstep in an era that needs a lot more of them. That song on the radio may stay with you a day or a week; a true album is a staple of life.

I also empathized with Showalter nearly giving up the craft until fate intervened in the form of My Morning Jacket guitar-slinger Carl Broemel (leading to the recording of the gorgeous 2019 Oaks revival record Eraserland). I’ve long loved working in creative writing, but on more than one occasion I’ve felt the compulsion to quit based on anxiety, crippling self-criticism, and thinking I had nothing left to say anyone cared to hear. It’s connecting to hear someone singing and persevering through what I felt and what I still deal with mentally today.

Someone being real.

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Tim Showalter is one of those musicians talented enough to consistently bring that baggage of emotion out for some recording booth catharsis, and that continues with the lead single from the upcoming Strand of Oaks album In Heaven, due out October 1st.”Galacticana” has an uplifting swing in mentions of joy and ecstacy, but like storm clouds amidst summer sun it also dwells on the human fear and insecurity that lies beneath those gold rays.

But instead of that worrying “I don’t wanna drag you down” suggestive earworm on this track, that reveal of vulnerability instead feels like a badge of kinship. It’s a powerful bonding connection between Showalter and his listeners, which is more than can be said for a lot of musical projects.

For example, take a band I’ve enjoyed a long time who recently dropped a record with a producer I greatly respect. Despite the anticipated team up, the majority of this band’s new tracks just felt lifeless and meandering. But sometimes that’s just it, you can book the best producer behind a great veteran band with a handful of songs, but when there’s no soul in it…. you’re just ironing an empty shirt.

Not so with Strand of Oaks. If “Galacticana” is any indication, In Heaven is already a dark horse contender for 2021’s Best Of list.

Watch below:

Renewed Rocker Finds His Soul Again Through “Heal”

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Catharsis. It’s a word that could be used frequently (to the point of overuse) to describe Timothy Showalter’s new (aptly titled) Strand of Oaks record “Heal”, and it wouldn’t be without justification. Across the span of these 10 tracks Showalter lets the blood spill where it may, at times raw and confessional and in others savagely defiant, keen to let a hushed murmur build into a wicked shrilling scream. From the start of opening track “Goshen 97” and it’s garage rock thrash, “Heal” is laid out as an earnest look into a mirror covered over with cracks and erosion. And it doesn’t spend a moment attempting to flinch away from the image.

Rather, Showalter paints each feeling of his self-portrait in full color out upon the canvass. From the Indiana kid who’s “lonely but having fun” growing up with Casios and a tape machine in “Goshen” to the man wondering if he was “born in the middle maybe too late” in “Shut In”, these songs often seem like hard-fought survival contrasted against a fog of uncertainty, emptiness and relationships in turmoil. “Heal” feels like a collection of snapshots; memories strewn in growing up and growing old, yet tied together by their separate burden of the unknown and insecure.

That weight reaches it’s peak with songs like the title track and “Mirage Year”, the former being a stripped-back process of thought that reaches deep to hold it’s roots of sanity together, while the latter blasts them apart. “Mirage” is Showalter’s unfiltered perspective of his wife’s infidelity, and while the issue both discomforts yet manages to fondly reminisce throughout this record, it’s on this song that the pain of it ruptures through the hardest. Couple wounded, spiting vocals with pounding drums and guitar lines that rise up in a wave that would make Neil Young’s Crazy Horse blush, and the only feeling left to describe it is…. chewed up, spat out, and loving every minute of it.

But despite how deep that feeling of darkness goes, or how far that anger travels, Timothy Showalter above all else seems resolute to carry on. On the song “JM” he pays homage to the twilight by recognizing the late Songs:Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co frontman Jason Molina, another artist who brooded just as prolifically but sadly couldn’t make it out of the spiral. It’s a song that rattles walls and crackles with energy, the kind of song that Molina and his Neil Young-inflected live energy would have appreciated. But it also comes with a tone of defiance and not letting “these dark times win”; at once memorializing a departed man and taking it as a lesson not to fall.

The same goes for a line in “Mirage Year”, in which Showalter opines that “my hands are worth more than your blood”. It seems like a reminder of self-worth, that pushing through means more than settling a score. And while “Heal” doesn’t exactly entail the promise of a happy ending, Showalter is the master of those struggles put to tape. At times as anthemic as Springsteen, melodically synth-laden as U2 or riff-heavy as Neil Young, he’s peeled back his arrangements and taken them to their greatest exodus yet.

 And that’s part of so much that should rightly surprise people about Strand of Oaks and “Heal” this year. Timothy Showalter may very well continue to cruise under the radar of many listeners and publications, but his record is a wildly vicious ride into the underbelly of pain, scrutiny, triumph and ultimate catharsis. There’s that word again, and never does it seem more therapeutically truthful. As Showalter gently croons on “Shut In”, “the night was cold and black, but the sun was in my eyes”. By the time “Heal” concludes, the horizon feels like it’s just begun to come out.

 

 

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