Even as his sound has grown bigger and grander over time, Tim Showalter’s songwriting has always radiated with a kind of dark intensity. As Strand of Oaks, he has been consistently making compelling music for years, but it wasn’t until his last record, 2014’s Heal, that he truly emerged as a force of rock and roll. Now, with his new release Hard Love, Showalter has more fully become the rock star he was always meant to be. Though his early days of being the quiet, acoustic singer-songwriter are still at the root of who he is as an artist now, he has evolved into a more fully realized version of himself. Hard Love finds Showalter still reeling from difficult experiences from his past while bringing his sound into the future.
Showalter writes candidly about taking mind-altering substances and seeing the world in a new way. “On the Hill” is a woozy, cloudy trip with heavy guitar riffs that linger alongside echoing, haunting vocals. “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother” has that same psychedelic tunnel vision sound, but is far calmer and dreamier. It stems from the out of body experience Showalter had at the bedside of his brother, who nearly died a few years ago. It sounds like some floating after-life time warp and is a standout track on Hard Love.
Where Heal was a step closer to big arena rock, Hard Love finds Strand of Oaks stepping directly into the spotlight of it. Showalter and his band create undeniably catchy rock gems that feel tailor made for huge crowds. A smaller venue wouldn’t be able to contain the explosive guitar on “Radio Kids” or the gorgeous, moody drama of title track “Hard Love”. “Quit It” finds Showalter right on the edge of rock bottom, and the way the instrumentals build to boil mirrors the emotions he must have been feeling as he went through it. He has managed to take some of his darkest times and turn them into tightly constructed rock moments primed for sharing with a stadium-sized audience.