Timothy Showalter, who performs and records music under the moniker Strand Of Oaks, has lived through an insane emotional roller coaster in the last twenty years. Before his first album, while on tour his wife had an affair which lead him to his 2003 move to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Months later he returned home one day to find the house burned thoroughly to ash. Despite this awful hand he’d been dealt, he was able to discover enough inspiration throughout the next decade to write record and tour behind four full length studio albums. And this Friday, Showalter will release album number five, Hard Love.
From the first few seconds of the lead single Radio Kids, listeners will hear a late 80’s dance pop mixed with early 90’s grunge vibe. While Showalter’s previous albums fit into the folk rock category (and the energy got heavier with each new release), it seems as if album number five stands uniquely on its own with a dark pop style.
The title track Hard Love also contains this dark pop Strand Of Oaks element that I wasn’t expecting. As soon as I heard the single I didn’t have any hopeful expectations that this album would sound anything like the gorgeous, acoustic and organic debut Leave Ruin. In fact, I assumed that the rest of the record would be different and borderline emo. Unfortunately my assumption was correct.
Track three Everything sounds like a bad Foo Fighters b-side. I understand Showalter’s desire to go louder and heavier on this album, but I think a lot of the songs are over produced with cringe-worthy distortion and muddled, ugly guitar effects. The next song Salt Brothers is a little bit more listenable because it’s slowed down heavy rock vibe makes the heavily exaggerated guitar effects bearable.
The only appealing song on the album is track six Cry. A beautiful, piano driven lullaby, this song showcases the mellow, zen Strand of Oaks style that is not dominant on this release. The mood is kept somber and quiet with wind gust studio effects and the most memorable aspect of the song is Showalter’s skyrocketing, tear-jerking falsetto vocals. The tone quality and duration of his falsetto note’s prove Showalter’s impressive singer/songwriter ability, and without this song on the album it would be hard to give more than a 2 star grade.
If you go back and listen to his first album Leave Ruin you’d think you’re listening to a completely different band. It’s very clear that Showalter wanted his sound to mature very quickly since that release, and I can only hope that someday he’ll return to his acoustic, raw roots.
Scott J. Herman