Timothy Showalter, AKA Strand Of Oaks, is nothing if not a wearer of hearts on sleeves. Previous albums have been defined by a searing honesty in their subject matter and this possibly got a bit wearisome on the 2017 album Hard Love, which failed to connect with fans in the same way as breakthrough album HEAL did. With latest offering Eraserland then, the introspective approach is given a bit of an overhaul. The focus ultimately is one that looks forward instead of to the past. How ironic then that this shift in design is still defined by an unadulterated love of music and genres, many of which reside in our distant pre-digital consciousness.
Opener ‘Weird Ways’ encapsulates the thematic evolution perfectly. Lyrically astute as always, he sings over a simple acoustic guitar, “I dug too deep and was crawling on the floor / It’s what you make and the people you love / The more I burn the less I’ve got to show”, before the few good riffs he later refers to kick in adding meat to this new-found mindfulness. An atmospheric interlude eases us into a more considered, War On Drugs style shred before Showalter’s gentle vocals deliver the final refrain “There are colors in the places you can’t find / It’s a way of saying goodbye”. The East coast sincerity is authentic and the outcome incredibly satisfying in a downbeat kind of way.
The record delivers as a probing dissection of musical inspirations, particularly during the first half and ‘Hyperspace Blues’ is a case in point. Towering synths and a guttural growl launch the track in a post-punk manner reminiscent of Public Image Ltd at their peak before Showalter infuses a Psychedelic Furs inspired melody to drive his vocals home. The combination is inspired.
Showalter has described ‘Keys’ as a love letter to his wife and “a song about the future and realizing with more years the aspects of life that truly matter and what seems so important in the moment just slips into dust.” and it takes a leisurely stroll through the ups and downs of this relationship, eschewing the musical complexities to bring out the sensitive sincerity. If it sounds self-indulgent, it isn’t; many will know Showalter’s story so hearing this shift in tone is incredibly refreshing. ‘Visions’ is less successful in this sense, lacking an identifiable persona to truly connect with, whereas ‘Final Fires’ and the Malcolm Young/Chris Cornell tribute on ‘Moon Landing’ dance through an anthology of British punk, post-punk and shoegaze references in a thoroughly melodic and energetic way. There is risk involved in this approach, but the songs possess enough personality to stop them slipping into the derivative. The wacky jazz saxophone/guitar solo at the end of the latter is enough to demonstrate that.
With the exception of the final track, which is a slightly redundant instrumental, the last few songs are stripped of this motley collection of hugely satisfying musical ephemera and we’re allowed to hear Timothy Showalter, clean and unblemished and on tracks like the wonderful ‘Forever Chord’ full of a grace we’ve perhaps never heard before.