The Lineup

Strand of Oaks

Philadelphia, Penn.

The events that led to Tim Showalter making music as Strand of Oaks sound like the stuff of a bathetic novel. After losing his house to a fire and his fiancée to the sorts of things that can end relationships, Showalter found himself living on park benches, bereft in every possible way. At least these kinds of events can serve as creative inspiration. Strand of Oaks' first album, Leave Ruin, doesn't directly address Showalter's unfortunate experiences (though “End In Flames,” as the title suggests, comes pretty close). Still, the album's songs pensively unspool and couple with the quivering ache in his voice, lending the record a certain solemn air.

In some ways, Showalter's most recent Strand of Oaks album, Pope Killdragon, is even more despairing than its predecessor, and not just because of the stern-looking fellow sporting a staff and bird mask on the cover. Musically, the album expands on the template established by the debut, allowing room in the usual strum-alongs for electric guitar heroics and synth-heavy flourishes.

The addition of these new elements somehow makes these songs sound even bleaker and more despondent. But the lyrics reveal that Showalter has a sardonic sense of humor that his seemingly bleak music might not indicate: “Daniel's Blues,” for example, turns out to be a straight-faced song about Dan Aykroyd exacting his revenge on John Belushi's drug dealer. “Alex Kona” might sound like a murder ballad, but not many murder ballads feature a character being sent to meet their maker with a bowling ball. While the misery that initially informed Strands of Oaks' music might always inform it in some way, it's reassuring to know that Showalter—now happily married, by the way—won't let that sadness be a means to an end. —David Raposa