Content warning: references of suicide
The appeal of Strand of Oaks, the stage name of Tim Showalter, has always been in his storytelling. He is the rare musician who still puts story above flash, making the kind of songs that feel like diary entries over a whisky and a cigarette. That certainly is not diminished on Eraserland, a return-to-form for the stoic Philly native.
Originally grabbing attention with 2014’s HEAL, an exciting project which combined Showalter’s excellent lyrics with anthemic songs, Strand of Oaks largely fell out of the spotlight in the coming years. 2014 seemed a brief moment of nostalgia for traditional rock with old-school style acts like The War on Drugs and Future Islands also having big years. As it has faded out again, the hopeful sound of that moment seems long gone and Eraserland reflects that.
Eraserland is a dark album made in a dark place. Showalter talked often of wandering the cold Jersey Shore, listening to Spirit of Eden to find a voice for it and it shows in the music. The opener ‘Weird Ways’ sets a distinct tone for the album, one that is brooding and narrative. Despite the length of many songs like this, they all serve the larger narrative of an ageing man, lost right as he felt he had his place in the world.
For the sake of those who find solace in more emotional music, I hope Eraserland reaches who it needs to. Songs like ‘Visions’ feature lyrics such as “2017 tried its best to take the magic from me” while describing drug dependency and suicidal thoughts, relatable sentiments in these messy years. These elements of Eraserland are certainly compelling and not lost on the listener, unfortunately, the music behind these ideas is just often not particularly compelling.
The melodies on earlier works like ‘Goshen ‘97’ made the songs just as engaging as they were well-written and while they aren’t terrible on Eraserland, they certainly aren’t compelling. The closest it comes is ‘Ruby’, but it’s a bit too little too late when the tracklist to that point is filled with very winding, lyrical songs. The production on these tracks is also simply passable, rather than exceptional.
Eraserland is certainly an interesting release worth a listen and a return to form for Showalter. It certainly will be well-received by rock listeners and lyricists, but may be too slow and personal for the average listener expecting a bit more melody.
Image: Dusdin Condren via Wikimedia Commons