Strand of Oaks
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Strand of Oaks

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States | SELF

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States | SELF
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Dec
10
Strand of Oaks @ Johnny Brenda's

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

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It's pretty heavy and yet, Showalter here summarizes it all with a spectacular folk song that will kill you in ways you didn't expect it to. He deals with the end of the world and illicit love affairs in the church the same way, finding ways to make us cry from the simplicity of the sentiments. - Daytrotter


In 2003, Tim Showalter's house burned down, his fiancée broke up with him, and he resorted to writing songs on an acoustic guitar while living on park benches in suburban Philadelphia. Those events informed the entirety of his arresting debut, Leave Ruin, an album about loss and brokenness and lack of faith. But as affecting as it was, Showalter is leery of being stuck in the past. After all, the first word of that record's title is "leave," and one of the first thing he asks when contacted for this interview is, "Can we kind of re-do my bio? I don't want to keep being the sad sack whose house burned down."

These days, Showalter is happily married and comfortably settled in Philadelphia, and he's staring down the release of his second record, Pope Killdragon, an album that's even stranger and more singular. Where Ruin was stark and autobiographical, Killdragon — which features odd, laser-beam synthesizers and one bona fide stoner metal track — is wild and fantastical. Showalter either invents characters whole cloth, or takes an approach to history so liberal even Tarantino would give pause (John F. Kennedy authors a fable about a knight; Dan Aykroyd carries out a revenge killing for the death of John Belushi). It's a bold, eerie, mighty work — though the man responsible for it couldn't be more affable or good natured. During the course of our interview, he laughs almost as often as he speaks.

eMusic's J. Edward Keyes talked to Showalter while he was visiting his parents in Indiana. - Emusic


Western PA troubador writes devastating, gorgeous songs about loss and heartbreak. - Rolling Stone


Leave Ruin is Strand of Oaks' hometown deathbed-confession hymnal, the soundtrack of an Exodus. Taking cues from such luminaries as Neil Young (On the Beach era) and a burgeoning Springsteen, Tim Showalter extends his musical gesture and searches to find modesty in the midst of confusion, addressing insecurities and settling existential debt with a simple and beautiful delivery. The personification of a Midwestern Grandfather's advice, his songs smack with hard truth and poignant severity, from child-like naivete to heart worn wisdom... sparse guitar, hammond, rhodes and wooden instruments support an atmosphere that is tender and raw, at times uncomfortable, shockingly candid, and unforgettable.

"At heart it's a man and a guitar in the infinite tradition of men with guitars. Imagine a less dispassionate Damien Jurado, a quieter Neil Young, or a Bon Iver whose lyrics follow a discernible narrative thrust."
-Interview Magazine - Interview Magazine


Tim Showalter’s first album under the Strand of Oaks moniker, Leave Ruin, became instantaneously synonymous with its cinematic back-story. Indie-legend has it that Showalter’s fiancée broke up with him just after he had returned to his home one night to find it burned to the ground. He then spent the next few months writing the record’s material on an acoustic guitar in between nights asleep on Philadelphia park benches.

Since then, he’s made it clear that he’d like to separate himself from that particularly remarkable anecdote. He’s currently married and has apparently recovered from such distress. But if there were a specific catalyst for the songs that make up his latest album, Pope Killdragon, it would be difficult to pin down to one similarly traumatic experience. Rather, this record feels as if Showalter began drunkenly flipping through his television one night. In this hypothetical stupor, he watched conspiracy theory documentaries on Kennedy’s assassination, public access communal prayer shows, Saturday Night Live Season 1 reruns, and history channel programs about knighthood. New Order’s Low-Life also figures in there somewhere. Wait, what? Um, yeah.

But this lyrical madness makes perfect sense when Showalter tells it to us. Something about the entire record feels majestic, even a little holy. Like the stirring narrative power found on dark folk albums such as I See A Darkness and For Emma, Forever Ago, Showalter slowly but surely leads us to believe that he holds some impeccable self-understanding and knowledge of the universe that we don’t yet possess. He doesn’t do this with condescension either, but with a sort of natural prophetic swagger. He’s telling us the story of the world through his own twisted dreams of how it should be.

This is an album where the winner for strangest song subject is equally split between a tune that revisits Kennedy’s assassination and in which the speaker knows exactly how it occurred based on a story called “Killdragon” written by the president’s bastard Irish-German son (“Sterling”), one in which Dan Akroyd takes blame for John Bellushi’s overdose and plots revenge against Bellushi’s drug dealer (“Daniel’s Blues”), and one in which the speaker begs for the Virgin Mary’s hand in marriage so that he can play and do “child-like things” with Jesus Christ (“Killdragon”).

If that wasn’t enough, all of this madness happens atop some truly striking instrumentation: Palm muted electric squeals, clicking snares, darkly brooding background vocals, screeching guitar solos, and of course, Showalter’s soulfully righteous bellow. It’s a “minor place,” filled with reverberated, dark tones; swirling, ominous 80’s synths; and iridescent drums. Like Justin Vernon, Showalter builds a cohesive world of echoed ambiance using his own rich, soulful, distressed vocals, and an array of bodying effects.

Opener “West River” is an electrified folk take on New Order’s “Elegia”; a guitar-led instrumental track gleaming with tinny synth and reverb-laden drums. It leads us beautifully into a record of slow-building ballads. On “Sterling”, Showalter slow picks his way to a screeching climax, repeatedly belting out “I saw him coming!” over screeching e-bow and noised out strums. In between, he finds room for lyrics that will linger long after the record’s conclusion: “This year I’m gonna work on stability/This year I’m gonna try to keep my friends close to me/And I hope that one day they have half as much as my grandpa’s integrity.” It’s all sung with a gorgeously catchy melody that doesn’t depart from the song’s darkness.”Alex Kona” sounds like a Cave-ian Murder Ballad. “Last to Swim” finds Showalter at his most keenly desperate, cooing quietly before crying out over pounding tympanis and ethereal string synths at the top of his lungs: “When all mosquitos/Are lying in my window/And my kids don’t know how to read/I’m gonna write you a letter/Saying all these cities’ problems are/Coming after me/And when the Wyoming valley caves in/I’ll be the first in the river/And the last to swim.” Earlier lyrics recur in the album’s closer, “Pope Killdragon”, tying the singular work together with elegant self-awareness.

In the end, Showalter leaves us with a record that feels strangely fresh in nearly every sense. Both lyrically and musically, it breaks new ground instead of sticking to the themes and instrumentation so often utilized by depressed, bearded folkies. Showalter does dark and brooding his own way, and it yields some bizarrely effective results. - Consequence of Sound




Timothy Showalter has a beard, an acoustic guitar, and a heartbreaking backstory-- on the surface, the confessional singer-songwriter start-up kit. But he'd prefer not to talk about his heavy history even if it would make you root for him. For one thing, he'd rather not relive some of the personal tragedy (a bad breakup, a house fire) that inspired his debut, Leave Ruin. But it also would obscure the otherworldly mythology he creates on Pope Killdragon, an astoundingly original twist on the loner-folk template.

He begins the mesmerizing "Sterling" like he's keeping an especially heavy secret, but Showalter is merely an observer and a confused one at that. If his lyrics are occasionally too loopy to pin down what it's "about," they're perfectly suited for an unreliable narrator trying to piece together lost time. In the darkly comic "Daniel's Blues", he inhabits Dan Aykroyd, racked with depression after the death of John Belushi. I won't spoil the ending, but it's by far the most pathos-laden song ever to recall the decision to take a role in Ghostbusters. Meanwhile, the spare "Alex Kona" is the stuff of Mastodon epics-- 12-foot monsters, sermons from the mount, mothers wailing in the streets-- and to drive that point home, it's immediately followed by "Giant's Despair", an honest-to-god doom-metal instrumental.

Those are the attention-grabbing tactics, but Pope Killdragon maintains these strange juxtapositions throughout: historical fact with whimsical fiction, a mournful delivery of absurd lyrics, an odd allure to the bifurcated sonics where synths sidle up with acoustic guitars. It's easy to envision the "next Bon Iver!" plaudits-- Showalter looks and sounds the part, but that would miss the deeper commonality. Auto-Tune, Gayngs, rolling spliffs with Rick Ross-- Justin Vernon has made the most of the spotlight by cutting against an image that requires him to continually hurt harder than others. Similarly, Pope Killdragon's playfulness and sense of humor allow it a broader range of emotion than the typical sadsack folkie. Showalter did a good deal of bloodletting on Leave Ruin, and now Strand of Oaks' horizons are limited only by his fantastical imagination.

— Ian Cohen, September 10, 2010 - Pitchfork


Discography

2006 - Split 7 inch with Dragon Turtle
2008 - Recorded Live for Simple Folk (ep)
2009 - Leave Ruin (full length)
2010 - Pope Killdragon (full length)

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Bio

In 2003, Tim Showalter’s house burned down, his fiancée broke up with him, and he resorted to writing songs on an acoustic guitar while living on park benches in suburban Philadelphia. Those events informed the entirety of his arresting debut, Leave Ruin , an album about loss and brokenness and lack of faith. But as affecting as it was, Showalter is leery of being stuck in the past. After all, the first word of that record’s title is “leave,” and one of the first thing he asks when contacted for this interview is, “Can we kind of re-do my bio? I don’t want to keep being the sad sack whose house burned down.”

These days, Showalter is happily married and comfortably settled in Philadelphia, and he’s staring down the release of his second record, Pope Killdragon, an album that’s even stranger and more singular. Where Ruin was stark and autobiographical, Killdragon — which features odd, laser-beam synthesizers and one bona fide stoner metal track — is wild and fantastical. Showalter either invents characters whole cloth, or takes an approach to history so liberal even Tarantino would give pause (John F. Kennedy authors a fable about a knight; Dan Aykroyd carries out a revenge killing for the death of John Belushi). It’s a bold, eerie, mighty work — though the man responsible for it couldn’t be more affable or good natured.

J. Keyes, Emusic 2010