Portland, Oregon has its fair share of country and Americana-style bands – perhaps more than most people might think – but one of the standouts has long been an outfit called Hearts of Oak. On their fourth album, Moves, the band ventures into more psychedelic landscape as they fuse country, folk and even shoegaze to forge a sound that marks a welcome departure from their previous albums.
Beginning with the aptly titled “Outlaws”, the band signals exactly what they are about with slow and somber vocals courtesy of Nate Wallace, sweeping and dramatic pedal steel, and a wash of sonic textures that climax with a huge guitar solo. Throughout the album, the band seems to take joy in straddling the line between more traditional country and folk music, and weirder, more far out sounds. Songs like “Worthless Currency”, the acoustically picked “Last Train Home” (a standout on the album with its poignant steel guitar, fiddle, and harmonies reminiscent of the folkier side of the Grateful Dead), and the album closer “Kick the Lights Out” (a heavier slice of alt-country driven by a thick bassy groove and some fiery interplay between pedal steel and electric guitar) all feel steeped in the influences of classic country music.
The band takes things in a different direction both lyrically and musically with “High Water”, the trippy and haunting harmonica sound of “Easy by the Gun” that brings to mind Alabama 3 and explodes into a mess of feedback, the shimmering and slowburning “Ghosts Pass Me By”, and the sprawling nine minute instrumental “California” that jumps from upbeat twangy and sunny guitar rock to trippy, experimental sound effects. In these songs the band members prove they can warp the listener’s mind like a heavy dose of acid kicking in on the floor of the honky tonk.
At the center of the Hearts of Oak sound is the distinctive nasally twang of frontman Nate Wallace. His naturally mournful voice Wallace lends itself well to the songs and lyrics throughout Moves, much of which dwell on sadness and loss. Throughout the album, Wallace seems to be in a meditative, reflective state, a feeling that is amplified with the spaces that are filled with the band’s spiraling musical inclinations. The album also succeeds in capturing the band’s loose approach to their live performances, which often stray into long, trippy jams. Yet another reason to make the trip to Portland to catch one of their frequent shows around town.