Timothy Showalter started releasing albums as Strand of Oaks back in 2009 with his debut Leave Ruin. The Indiana native(born in Goshen) put out folks-y, acoustic-heavy albums that dealt with personal issues like love, death, infidelity, and the struggle to keep it all together. His sound slowly developed into a more space-y, dreamy style that was heavy on story songs and synth touches throughout. But it wasn’t until Strand of Oaks album HEAL in 2014 that Showalter truly broke through. Going for a far bigger and all-encompassing feel, he dropped the Songs: Ohia vibe for something closer to Springsteen and My Morning Jacket. HEAL was an album that felt as much like an emotional exorcism as a rock and roll LP.
Strand of Oaks has returned with Eraserland. The record was recorded with members of My Morning Jacket as Showalter’s backing band. The result is an album that sounds big, emotional, far-reaching, and a good mix of both Showalter and the MMJ crew.
Eraserland is a mix of heart-on-sleeve earnestness and bluesy pop jams in the key of HEAL and Z. Album opener “Weird Ways” falls heavy on the ears with Tim Showalter sounding as soulful and world-weary as he ever has, while in contrast “Final Fires” has a heavy 80s vibe. Somewhere between Wang Chung and the Hooters, it instantly grabs you and begs to be blasted thru car speakers on the Dan Ryan. Somewhere in-between is the far-out “Hyperspace Blues”, a War On Drugs vibe mixed with Showalter seemingly being swallowed by a black hole. This is definitely the most unhinged Strand of Oaks has sounded sonically.
Elsewhere “Keys” is an acoustic-driven ballad that bares a resemblance to the backing band’s main gig. If Jim James ever decided to stick to solo work full-time, I know a guy that could fill his shoes nicely. One of the highlights is the infectious “Ruby”. It’s a jangly pop confection that hits the top of the list of high watermarks for Showalter’s songwriting.
Eraserland ends on two epic tracks, the nearly 10-minute “Forever Chords” and the almost 17-minute “Cruel Fisherman”. With these two tracks, Showalter seems to tow the line nicely between pop songcraft and experimental sonic excursions.
Strand of Oaks has turned from a lonely guy strumming sad songs about John Belushi into something far bigger and grander. Tim Showalter is getting by with a little help from his friends. Welcome to Eraserland.
7.7 out of 10