Friday 13 May 2022

Strand of Oaks - Heal

Somehow this is the first Strand of Oaks record I've written about on here, which is surprising (to me) because I've been listening to them for years now. This record feels like an appropriate place to start, but it turns out this wasn't my starting point after all.

In 2018 the Songs: Molina / Memorial Electric Co shows got announced, including a show in London which I instantly bought tickets for. I love Jason Molina's music and was keen to see the songs played live again (I saw Magnolia Electric Co once, but that was the first time I'd heard them). Standing in for Jason was Timothy Showalter, who records under the name Strand of Oaks. At that point in time, I was pretty sure that was how I first heard the name Strand of Oaks. I text my friend Stubbs about the show as he was a big Molina fan too, and he told me that Strand of Oaks had released a beautiful tribute to Jason in the form of the song JM. I tried to find the song online, but struggled and listened to Pope Kildragon instead, which I really enjoyed.

But it turns out that wasn't the beginning, because I eventually noticed that I'd seen Strand of Oaks at Primavera Sound in 2015. They were the first band we saw on the last day of the festival, and I remember my friend's friend encouraging us to get there in good time such that we could see them (well, I remember him encouraging us to get there in time to see a band, and looking at the first band we saw each day it must have been Strand of Oaks). Sadly, for whatever reason, that show wasn't enough to make a lasting impression on me (but we saw a lot of bands that weekend, so the competition was tough).

Some time later I found a bunch of songs on my iPod from the Daytrotter Session Strand of Oaks recorded in 2010. This dates my first discovery of Strand of Oaks even earlier, because I was deeply into listening to and downloading Daytrotter Sessions for a few months in the spring of 2010. There was a short period between me discovering the archive of incredible music there and it becoming a paid service, but in that time I'd been a huge fan, downloading sessions from bands I loved and trying a bunch of new ones. Exactly what caused me to download the Strand of Oaks session I don't know, but it was likely a favourable write-up on the site. The songs he played that day are from Leave Ruin, an album I've never really got into, so maybe that's why they didn’t make a huge impression on me.

So after two failed starts, third time I got lucky and became a big fan of Timothy's music. The first album of his that I bought was this one, a month after the Songs: Molina show. They'd played JM that night and it was lovely. I'm pretty sure I had heard it prior to that, but it really worked well that night. It's the highlight of the album - dark and brooding - but that's not to diminish the other songs - Shut In is an incredible song too - there's something Springsteen-esque to the echo on the vocals and the guitars somehow make the song sound really uplifting. Goshen '97 is a great opener (I love the Smashing Pumpkins reference). Generally though it comes across as quite a dark album - Mirage Year and For Me are even heavier than JM; Plymouth sandwiched between them serves only to minimise the despair. All in all, I have a lot of time for this album, so I'm glad everything finally clicked with Strand of Oaks.

Format: 12", picture sleeve
Tracks: 10
Cost: £15 new
Bought: Norman Records website
When: 26/10/18
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download