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Strand of Oaks - Hard Love (Album Review)

Monday, 20 February 2017 Written by Graeme Marsh

After three largely ignored folk-rock records, ‘HEAL’ blasted Timothy Showalter and Strand of Oaks to a position of significance. The album arrived in a blaze of glory; it was bigger, louder and at its heart was the majestic JM, a seven minute, slow-burning stoner rock tour de force.

Two and a half years later we have ‘Hard Love’, which is heralded as an exploration of “the balancing act between overindulgence and accountability”. Here, Showalter has been influenced by his "love of Creation Records, Trojan dub compilations and Jane’s Addiction", but also by the havoc of real life: a struggling marriage, attempts to clean up and the shock of his younger brother suffering a heart scare.

Dissatisfied with an initial recording of ‘Hard Love’, Showalter brought in French producer Nicolas Vernhes, who had previously worked with the War on Drugs, Deerhunter and Animal Collective, allowing greater collaboration and complementing the work of guitarist Jason Anderson.

The announcement for the new album was accompanied by the release of Radio Kids, an ode to a generation of radio listeners whose main source of new music was enforced by the lack of alternatives. Vocally reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, it duly wouldn’t look out of place on mainstream airwvaves.

Elsewhere, things occasionally slink back into the more familiar guise adopted by ‘HEAL’. Salt Brothers plays out like a shortened little brother of JM while the slow building On The Hill chugs along in routine fashion until its cacophonous latter stages.

Cry, a piano-led, minimalist piece about how one’s actions affect others is an emotionally charged stunner. Its chorus - “Hey, you’re making me cry” - potentially wields enough power to make you do just that. Then there’s some good old rock ‘n’ roll in the shape of Rest of It, which conjures images of Back To The Future’s Marty McFly hitting his ‘50s audience with some serious shredding.

Everything, meanwhile, mystifies by somehow managing to sound like both an Oasis record played through a heavy distortion pedal and a slowed down, psychedelic version of Kim Wilde’s Kids In America. The monstrous eight minute closer Taking Acid and Talking To My Brother is the album’s high point, though. Based around Showalter’s past as well as the two weeks he spent in hospital alongside his brother, it’s a simply irresistible cut in the same vein as the Doors’ The End, from their legendary debut.

With such a masterful album to emulate in ‘HEAL’, ‘Hard Love’ makes a good fist of an uphill battle with largely successful results. Perhaps not quite reaching the same heights as its predecessor, ‘Hard Love’ is, nevertheless, another fine entry in Strand of Oaks’ history that should keep the wolves from the door for some time.

Strand of Oaks Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 28 2017 - LONDON Oslo
Wed March 01 2017 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Thu March 02 2017 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Fri March 03 2017 - BRIGHTON Patterns (ex Audio)

Click here to compare & buy Strand Of Oaks Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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