Clarity for one or clarity for none?
Six albums spanning an almost 10-year career is, in itself, a commendable feat. As the music industry is becoming increasingly fickle, we need artists like Timothy Showalter to persist. His journey has not been without failure – 2017’s release Hard Love did not quite live up to the hype following 2014’s HEAL, an undoubtedly depleting result for Strand Of Oaks. Showalter took some time off to recoup after that, and two years later, Eraserland marks a regained clarity, a renewed energy, and above all else, an inner awareness.
“Somehow I see clearer than before.” It’s a telling opener to “Weird Ways,” the record’s first track, and right off the bat, Showalter’s calmness permeates everything from the solemn melodies to the sharp refrains. There’s a desperation to his vocal delivery that almost evokes the smaller sounds of U2, and the eerie synth holds he scatters give space for further reflection, before ending with a sweet, instrumental dive.
The mighty 9-minute immersion, “Forever Chords” is a defiant move by Showalter. Only the most dedicated listeners will intently listen, and in a way, it’s like his gift to them. Those who indulge will enter Showalter’s secret place, his forever home – an intimate offering by the artist. Unfortunately, the track doesn’t abuse its length – it’s more of an extension than a deliberate composition, nothing he couldn’t have done within a regular track time.
As the record progresses it seems to lose its initial clarity. Showalter still does well with what he has, and easily goes between moments of subtle psych-rock to sparsely acoustic deliveries, but in those changes, his sound develops a conflicted quality.
“Final Fires” moves closer to the brooding beauty of his opening tracks, closing on punky dotted riffs and ethereal harmonic layering, but the question then that this track raises in the context of the entire release, is, where does Showalter’s artistic integrity lie? In his personal devotion or in his wild desire for release?
“Moon Landing” is exactly the go-between that should help answer that question. Showalter throws his grunge-rock capabilities to the wind and definitely frees himself in doing so. He ends it with screeching runs, almost exactly as Radiohead ends “The National Anthem,” and it works brilliantly, but match that with the quiet of “Wild and Willing,” and we’re lost. The ends are too far apart, such that in the extreme disparateness, in the endless space, the album feels ironically claustrophobic – it’s just too much in one go.
The record closes with its title track, and maybe this ending sums up the record. It’s stoic and gradual, high and low, off-key and on-key. Recurring motifs that we see on the album are the immersive instrumental sections, and the one that closes off Eraslerland is by far the best. This is Showalter at his clearest and most confident. What comes between the beginning and the end may be lost in feelings and desire, it may be at war against itself, but we can forgive Strand of Oaks for this because the essential qualities of this record remain strong. Eraserland is an exercise in introspection, and a look into the limits of one’s own mind – what can we produce when we are forced to acknowledge every part of our actions and their results? Showalter explores that within himself, and like anyone would, he gets a bit lost in what he finds, but rather that than no discovery at all. Clarity for one or clarity for none? Eraserland borders on both, and so whichever way you look at this record, you’ll find a part of Timothy Showalter you’ve never seen so plainly before.