April 1, 2019

Strand of Oaks "Eraserland" is an Essential Visit

Strand of Oaks "Eraserland" is an Essential Visit

Strand of Oaks – Eraserland

Let’s get it out of the way: Eraserland is a career-defining record from Strand of Oaks. That’s saying a lot, as the project from Tim Showalter is punctuated by plenty of highs and lows. He’s an underrated songwriter that exists in starts and stops. For every HEAL, his breakthrough 2014 record, there are records like 2017’s Hard Love, which was not as warmly received. After thinking that Strand of Oaks was done after jettisoning his former backing band, he teamed up with members of My Morning Jacket for this, his sixth record.

Don’t be mistaken – this isn’t Strand of Oaks fronting My Morning Jacket. It’s a statement that’s far more consequential. The album opens with “Weird Ways,” where a dejected Showalter sings “I can’t feel it anymore/somehow I feel clearer than before”. He sounds dejected, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar as a slide guitar begins to accent his vocal. As the song nears its chorus, it begins to sweep, and at 1:30, a thunderous electric riff and drumbeat. It’s an incredible statement, invigorating life in to a group and proving that this is very different iteration of the band.

This continues with “Hyperspace Blues”. It is an apt title, as it feels like you’re zooming forward with Showalter in the Millenium Falcon. The guitars sound like the future, scribbling, squalling and fuzzing. Both ballad “Keys” and “Wild and Willing” sound like the most traditionally-sounding SOA song on the record, but it’s still a nice departure from the electric jolts of the first few tracks.

“Moon Landing” feels anxious. It’s full of squelching guitars (provided by Jason Isbell, sounding nothing like you’d expect from him) and humid rock organ. This fits completely in line with the lyrics, where Showalter ruminates on the death of Malcolm Young, the downside of being a professional musician when you’ve got a family, and Chris Cornell. There’s a lot going on here, but the last verse is both a little sad and a little true: “Cornell was born on the 20th of July/Same day I was born back in ’82/Same day Neil Armstrong took Buzz’s spot on the moon/Sometimes you get there first”.

The album’s title track feels positively huge – huge walls of synthesizer and monolithic guitars, it feels like you could live there. It sounds like Showalter wants to. He addresses someone named Mary who has been gone for some time, singing about wanting to “build a house where no one lives/get away from my phone and drugs/just my wife and people I love”. It sounds part fantasy and part hope. Then, moments later: “I am the Eraserland/I can start again“. Then it just feels like confidence. That’s real. It’s album of authentic, brutal moments and crafted by a band that can support the weight of Showalter’s conviction of a songwriter. Here’s hoping we make another few trips to Eraserland with this version of Strand of Oaks, because it seems like the right place to be.

Eraserland is out now on Dead Oceans.