Strand of Oaks

Hard Love

Mar 01, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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With Hard Love, the churning, confessional beauty of Strand of Oaks' last album, 2014's HEAL, is present, but there is an added ruthlessness. Hard Love delivers frontman Tim Showalter's hard stuff in exponents. Add this depth of relay onto Showalter's loaded visions, and it sounds as if the universe itself is groaning. We are out of our seats for this one.

The title track opens with Showalter's poignant exhale self-registering as guitars splinter and build amongst crashing drums, prepping us for a visceral journey, but demanding we agree to go. "Radio Kids" tunes everything out in the way that Showalter so spectacularly knows how to dochanneling in on a palpable memory of the emotions and secrets that nobody on the outside could have understood in a childhood bedroom behind closed doorsherein is the music that we depend on and even make there to get through, along with all the trappings that come once the angst gets stirred in the earnest.

Showalter again has a reflective eye on himself, and Hard Love is an expose of his life's pursuits, sometimes self-destructive, and sometimes life-giving, albeit in a roundabout way. But it's the risk in the balance that makes the ride so chilling and ring so universal. "On the Hill" chugs and Showalter crunches, his voice raw like he's throwing off chains from his throat, and we feel unstoppable along with him. Just as soon, "Cry" touches down, a glassily frail piano gleamer, facing music and a face we have never faced before. We are tortured by the last touches of a couple of geniusly placed guitar plucks and whooshing wind sounds vibrating thinly into an almost piercing falsetto. It's so good.

"Salt Brothers" is a pulsing, loopy stunner, a deadpan-polka-meets-heartfelt-anthem, as Showalter beams, "We want something new, make it good, make it real, make it true." If there is one thing Showalter has found a voice in, it's in these three measures. Much of Hard Love feels as if it's written from the inside of his eyesone can hear the torment that it is taking to get it out, his vocal chords pulling all his innards from the hat of his gut, as if he was slowly, and in no joking manner exhibiting the bloodied notes, sopping up, more than fixing anything. It's still a bloody mess inside. Should it be worrisome that it seems to come so naturally to him? Maybe. But if there is one thing Showalter returns to continuously, it's going there, and having us go there too. (www.strandofoaks.net)

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