[20 August 2014]
PopMatters Music Editor - Canada
Hearts of Oak is an outfit from Portland, Oregon that has been described as, and this is rather interesting, “shoegazer country”. Owing a little bit to Spirtualized, the group’s third album and first to receive American national distribution, New England starts out as just about any country-rock album with tasty pedal steel guitars and something that owes a debt to country music’s forbearers. However, when you get to the record’s third track, “Trouble Your Mind”, a kind of druggy psychedelia takes over. Now, being called “shoegazer” may draw visions in your mind of tremolo riding acts such as My Blood Valentine, but Hearts of Oak is more spacious and interested in creating a trippy vibe than staring down at their effects pedals. This is a band that just wants to ride a certain lazy feeling, the kind of thing you can down beers to on your back porch. It’s telling that the record ends with the sounds of a dog barking.
Singer Nate Wallace has a kind of nasally quality, as though he got into a bar fight and someone gave him a good hard punch in the nose, causing it to get out of joint. And plenty of these songs have a pleasant quality to them. The only quibble I have about New England, and it’s a fairly major one, is that, at 31 minutes long, it’s a bit on the short side – just when you’re getting into the distinct feel of the record, it’s over. And many of these songs could just ride out, but they seem cut off just when they’re getting established. Still, this is a fascinating and attention-grabbing experiment, and fans of good, clean country rock will find more than enough to get their teeth around. While New England could certainly be more expansive, you’ll certainly get carried away by the satisfying cadence of the album. Inventive, this is a disc that creates a new genre of its own, and this is real “new country”.