Some bands are not relatable. We might as well talk about Radiohead here. Their music is superb and loved by so many, but it’s all about the deflection of genuine feelings into artifice. When Thom Yorke sings, “I twitch and salivate like with myxomatosis”, it just doesn’t hit directly in the gut. It’s in the ether, waiting to be pulled down and analyzed. There’s nothing wrong with this move, but sometimes we just need someone to speak directly to our gut. Timothy Showalter and his project Strand of Oaks’ new album Eraserland is doing just that, going directly for the stomach. It’s about career worries. It’s about aging. Basically, it’s about all the insecurities.
Strand of Oaks have been making similar tunes for years. If you cruise the internet, you’ll probably see the term, “heartland rock” used to describe them. It’s an eye-roller, but if a term is needed, it works as good as any. For one, Showalter is from small-town Indiana and his lyrics do not hide this. “I was rotting in the basement / Buying Casios with my friend” is how he starts his last album, Heal, on a song named after his hometown, “Goshen ’97”. And as far as rock goes, it checks all the boxes. The guitar is mixed up front, another guitar rips through many of the songs, the drums bash away in the back keeping the pace, and heavy synths pop up on occasion to add a touch of drama. Most of Strand of Oaks’ tunes would sound good in an arena. Eraserland does not shy from this formula much, especially in the front half.
Upon first listen, opening track “Weird Ways”, might go unnoticed. It rides alt-country tropes too hard, begging to become background music for a cafe filled with Edison lights, but it slowly unfolds, letting the band (which just happens to be My Morning Jacket minus the golden-voiced Jim James) build a song from just a few slight strums into an absolute wall of sound. If the opening track is shy to show itself, then the second track, “Hyperspace Blues” is quite the opposite, as it comes crashing in with a rock “Hey!” and all. It’s a mix from here, with tracks like “Final Fires” and “Moon Landing” being louder and faster and tracks like “Keys” and “Wild and Willing” falling much closer to that aforementioned cafe music, with the album overall slowing down to blistering crawl with the closing track “Forever Chords”.
The way an album ends is telling, but Eraserland‘s ending is a little unclear. The album proper ends with a slow wall of sound on the aforementioned “Forever Chords”. But a bonus track called “Cruel Fisherman” is attached at the end on most of the streaming formats. It’s a 17-minute drone, which is quite a different path for the album to take, but it makes sense in a way. On an album filled with in-your-face confessional lyrics like, “Producers cost money and your wife pays the rent” and “You’ll get a new job and I might lose some weight / It’s a nice dream anyways”, a little time to process such pain is appreciated. That 17 minutes of “Cruel Fisherman” is for us to get our heads straight and get ready to move into the real world and out of Eraserland because it’s just too real.