Strand of Oaks: Dark Shores

Music Reviews Strand of Oaks
Strand of Oaks: Dark Shores

NASA’s Curiosity may have just landed on Mars, but Timothy Showalter seems to have written this whole new album from the surface of the moon. Actually, it seems to be one of three moons, upon one of which the otherwise-Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter (known as Strand of Oaks) has built a lonely space station, some post-apocalyptic panic room upon a lunar beach that’s provided him shelter from sporadic solar storms while penning poetic wonderings of where-you-are-now back down on Earth.

The folk deconstructionist struck similarly surreal and shifty narratives on his past two works. In fact, his knack for serenading faintly familiar, yet-nightmarish imagery has likely become his signature, distinguishing beyond the cliché of the folk warbler who had to write a record to dig out of personal devastation. Alhough, that’s how some tagged Showalter in the wake of his stirring debut, Leave Ruin. But in such minimalist aesthetics reviewers can easily preoccupy themselves with the dude’s story. Dark Shores should also emboss this songwriter’s sensibility for sparse, effective arrangements that blend timbres from spindly acoustic guitars, mesmerized with merely a kick drum and soft snare.

“Dark Shores” and “Last Grain” are the one-two punch that achieves the knock-out, the former is a soaring nocturne over brambles of chirping, echo-shocked guitars and rumbling, Moog ponds. The tracks are warmed only by his quavering voice (somewhere between the mountainous majesty of a Robin Pecknold and the throaty urgency of Win Butler), while the latter is a spurring strider with subtle-yet-effective percussion under the gloomed-allure of piano twined with murky guitars. But its when the music tides away for his vocals, filtered to sound like fuzzed transmissions from a failing ham radio that you feel the exigency, the uncertainty, of these darkening shores. He’s up there, singing songs to situate himself in this new life, settling in to his “next big decision” and strikingly affecting the celestial/murky/lonely drones of lunar life. “Trap door” repeats as a lyric in one song and titles another, succinctly portraying his satellite sanctuary, an escape, yes, but then, a trap.

Shores is such an elegant and melodious dystopian album, but it navigates gracefully away from clunky doom or preachy drivel. It’s an apt soundtrack for star-gazing strolls in the fading days of what’ll prove to be one of this Earth’s hottest years on record. Maybe it’s time for a move to the moon?

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