There’s more to the title of this record than four letters stuck in CAPS LOCK. It’s not a corporate acronym but a humble four letter word that is both a whispered prayer and bellowed marching order: HEAL.
The new album from Strand of Oaks, Timothy Showalter’s one man Philly band, is an album as much about the inherent powers of music and the people who make it, as it is a love song to a bygone era before shit got weird, bellies fat and mistakes that couldn’t be rewound were made. HEAL represents, by proxy, the complex, often chameleonized emotions of a passionate man, someone who has grown too comfortable seeking shelter inside the gatefold protection of a piece of 180g vinyl, a dude reticent to put his trust in something other than a screeching electric guitar to ease the deepest of pains. HEAL is a song cycle about being alone with your thoughts and also about being alone physically — which of course are not always the same thing.
The 10 songs on Strand of Oaks’ HEAL can be violent in a turn then swaddle the listener just as easily, submissive and dominant from chorus to verse and then back again, ripped like a meathead without the bullshit attitude or the pimpled gut yet as meek as a wallflower with swirling fears trapped behind thick-framed glasses. The dichotomy is striking and meaningful.
What makes HEAL a smashing success of a rock record, and one of the best albums of the year, is that Showalter doesn’t allow the mood to descend into a morbid fascination with anguish or missed opportunities, and it never becomes self-absorbed. This is no pity party. The genius of the emotional state of HEAL may lie in one man’s personal history and within his past struggles, but the music is for us, for our journey going forward and for the times we need to reflect back on the specific magic that changed us along the way.
Strand of Oaks stands ready to heal whatever it is that ails us, with the power of music as the only potion needed in the doctor’s black bag.