The Upshot: Probing songs that, while noisy and raucous, don’t sacrifice intimacy and tunefulness.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Sensitive folkie by day, wild-eyed rock & roller at night, Tim Showalter has led a double life in his guise as Strand of Oaks. The Philadelphia act’s records tended to lean harder on melodic introspection, while the tour for 2014’s acclaimed Heal reveled in ear-punishing volume and the joy of rock abandon. Hard Love, the Oaks’ fifth album, unabashedly fuel-injects the latter aspect of Showalter’s personality into his probing songs without sacrificing their intimacy and tunefulness.
In “Salt Brothers,” Showalter takes what could have been a simple folk rocker and slathers it in ribcage-rattling grunge and decaying feedback. “On the Hill” and “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother” add burly muscle to dreamy melodies, the overloaded acid rock apt for tales of psychedelic awakening. “Radio Kids” throws the lighters in the air and the power chords into the sky for an irresistible tribute to that one song that gets your blood singing, no matter what else happens. “At least I had that song on the radio,” Showalter sings with desperate passion, blissfully free of self-consciousness. “Rest of It” simply bashes out a basic rock & roll melody like the bar band of your dreams. Only “Cry” refrains from sonic overload, its plaintive arrangement in line with its introspective melancholy.
All this noise stays in service of the songs, which remain as self-reflective and personal as ever. Showalter isn’t using the volume to hide the emotions spilling out of “Everything” or the title track, but rather to amplify them. That he does so without entering into U2-esque excess is a tribute to both his conviction and his taste. “Make it good/make it real/make it true,” Showalter implores in “Salt Brothers,” and he spends Hard Love proving true to that promise.
DOWNLOAD: “Radio Kids,” “Salt Brothers,” “On the Hill”