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“I spent ten long years feeling so fucking bad…
I spent two long years just losing my mind.”
As the short, straightforward album title suggests, Strand of Oaks, a.k.a. Indiana-based singer/songwriter Timothy Showalter, has undergone a dark period of inner turmoil and a considerable personal growth –- and, consequently, he is in a much better place now, both professionally and privately. Marital problems, alcohol abuse, a near-fatal car crash, and creative dissatisfaction all led to frustration and depression. But Showalter’s soul-searching, cathartic lyrics reach farther back in time –- in order to gain a better understanding of himself and begin his healing process –- depicting his long journey from being a discontent, insecure, awkward teenager to becoming the man that he is today. Showalter’s fourth full-length album, HEAL, is his spiritual salvation and musical reinvention.
During the course of a prolific three-week recording session, Showalter wrote all of thirty songs, ten of which were picked for inclusion on HEAL. Leaving behind the Neo-Folk of Strand Of Oaks’ first three albums, HEAL explores a musical style similar to the electronically-tinged Indie-Rock of The War On Drugs and Phosphorescent. The album opens with Goshen ’97, the first single, a fierce and visceral Rock track distinguished by shredding, ripping, wailing guitars played by Showalter’s childhood hero J. Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr.). Named after the artist’s hometown, the song takes us back to his parents’ basement, where he –- at the age of fifteen -– first began playing around with a small Casio keyboard, while using his dad’s old tape-machine to record his earliest musical creations… “And that’s where the magic began”, he sings, adding: "I don’t wanna start all over again"...and then proceeds to do just that with the title track, which is unlike any other song he has ever recorded before. Urgent and energetic, propelled by an insistent drumbeat, thumping synth bass, and mantra-like lyrics (“You gotta give up / Give out / Give in / You gotta heal”), HEAL rushes ahead, as if Showalter’s life depended on it, and it just might have (“I spend ten long years feeling so fucking bad /…I spend two long years just losing my mind”). Printed in capital letters, the song title screams of desperation, a cry for help.
Same Emotions is a very special Electro-Pop song, one of HEAL’s most captivating compositions, thrilling and quite fascinating, with its swirling, oscillating, spiralling synth passages. The other absolute highlight is the melodic, mid-tempo Shut In, which takes a look back on darker times, when Showalter’s depression caused him to self-medicate and avoid the outside world (“So I just get loaded / And never leave my house”). A blistering electric guitar solo indicates a breakthrough of sorts, followed by a flicker of hope, as Showalter, accompanied only by subtle piano chords, sings the last few lines: “The night was cold and black / But the sun was in my eyes”. The light at the end of the tunnel, the “dark night of the soul”, also shines through in the next song, Woke Up To The Light (“In the distance we will find / Heaven lies awaiting”), a grandiose spiritual ballad elevated by heavy drum fills, reverberating cymbals and sky-high harmonies. Contrary to Strand Of Oaks’ more ambiguous earlier works, the narratives on HEAL are about as autobiographical as songwriting gets –- uncompromising, self-loathing, stark, at times even emotionally harrowing. Timothy Showalter played the majority of all the instruments on HEAL.