Sunday, 22 July 2012

Indie Music Alert, Part II: Strand of Oaks

Yesterday, in Part I of our latest independent music alert, I posted about Coast Jumper, a terrific quintet from upstate New York, now based in California, who are a self-described "band of music brothers." Today, in Part II, I'd like to draw your attention to a performer who has walked a completely different road as a solo artist, following a personal vision that is at times solitary, eccentric, and introspective.

Quite simply, Tim Showalter is a terrific talent. Originally Strand of Oaks was a three-piece band in which Tim played organ. They debuted in 2003 to play "post rock." Lacking vocals, they played a Noam Chomsky speech over the music. However, in what was a turning point in his young life, Tim came home one night to find his house burned down and all his belongings and equipment gone, except for an acoustic guitar which he then he took up quite simply because "that's the only instrument I had." His then-fiancé left him, and he ended up sleeping on park benches in suburban Philadelphia. This experience produced the songs that formed his first album, Leave Ruin (2009, La Sociéte Expéditionnaire), in which "sparse guitar, Hammond, Rhodes and wooden instruments support an atmosphere that is tender and raw, at times uncomfortable, shockingly candid, and unforgettable."

He taught elementary school in Wilkes-Barre before making a full-time commitment to music and released his second album, Pope Killdragon, in November 2010. Some of the cuts on this second album, he says, go all the way back to 2005, when he used to spend a lot of time recording stuff on a tape player in the bathroom because "the reverb was good." The subject of some of his songs are quite startling: "John F. Kennedy authors a fable about a knight; Dan Aykroyd carries out a revenge killing for the death of John Belushi."

This month marks the release of his third album, Dark Shores. I can't say enough about what I heard while browsing the available cuts on this album. Tim describes his music as a cross between early Neil Young and early Bruce Springsteen, and I can certainly hear echoes of Neil Young and Crazy Horse here and there. Tim speaks fondly in interviews of his love of electronic music and he's probably still a closet keyboardist at heart, but I have to say that it's his remarkable, unique voice and acoustic guitar that make me stop whatever I'm doing and listen with full concentration. "I Need You Like I Need The Snow" has to be one of the most striking songs I've heard in a long while. (It's still running through my head as I proofread this post. I love it.)

There's a certain amount of "the next Bon Hiver" hype that's starting to circulate, especially given the bushy beard and long hair (which he apparently hasn't cut since 2006), but Tim Showalter deserves to be enjoyed for his own remarkable talent, in addition to his musical roots that run all the way back through Neil Young and Springsteen, Nick Drake, Robert Johnson and every other solitary, intensely-personal voice who ever picked up a guitar, a pen, and a piece of paper and tried to explain to the world how they felt about it all.

You owe it to yourself to listen to Tim Showalter's music, and if you treasure the independent artistic spirit as I do, you'll understand how it will be difficult to find a greater inspiration than Strand of Oaks.

Read more about Strand of Oaks from Seizure Chicken, Shaking Through, Hear Ya!, Welcome to Flavor Country, JDub Records, Communion, and Bandcamp.

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