Published Mar 19, 2019Timothy Showalter fell into a bout of depression in the time between his 2017 album, Hard Love, and now, and it had him questioning whether his life as a musician would ever continue. In fact, he eventually decided he was done. But thanks in part to a spiritual retreat on the New Jersey shore, and in larger part to a little help from a friend — that is, My Morning Jacket member Carl Broemel — the singer-songwriter has emerged from the darkness with a sixth Strand of Oaks album that aches with those nagging feelings of self-doubt.
But while Eraserland faces those feelings head-on, Showalter doesn't pretend to have found a cure for what's ailed him, nor does he go looking for one. He does what's in his control and accepts what isn't.
As both the album's opener and its best song, "Weird Ways" sets this tone perfectly. "I don't feel it anymore / Somehow I see clearer than before / I hold on to the bastion of light / I turn my back to the meaning of life," Showalter sings over the gloomiest chords this side of Nebraska, before the song picks up into a heartland folk-rocker in the vein of Jason Isbell (who, maybe not coincidentally, also had a contributing role in Eraserland). On "Keys," he sings an ode to his wife, thanking her for his life in music. It's a floating, romantic ballad delivered with incredible passion as he looks toward the future with only the most important things in mind. On the jaunty, almost Beach Boys-y "Ruby," he thinks about time gone by, but counts himself fortunate to have fond memories. Those songs, along with "Wild and Willing," are the heart of Eraserland.
From there it expands outward into swirling, bluesy synth-rock. The cosmically titled "Hyperspace Blues" and "Moon Landing" have heavy hints of the Flaming Lips and, of course, My Morning Jacket, who serve as his backing band for the album. What appeals to you about this Strand of Oaks effort will likely depend on which side of this spectrum you fall on — in the heartland or out in space. That's a divide that Eraserland creates, putting it somewhat out of sync with itself, but the title track brings those worlds together beautifully.
You don't hear a lot about unfamous artists who get burnt out or otherwise lose their spark. It's a struggle that takes place behind the scenes as the desire to keep going fades. Coming out the other side, Showalter considers himself one of the lucky ones and uses this record to remind others that even the darkest night has a dawn.
But it also shows that he's very much still woozy from the effects of world-weariness and spiritual fatigue — an artist whose relationship with his art might still be tenuous. If this were to turn out to be his last (not that there's any way of knowing what he's thinking now), he'd be leaving a series of strong efforts and one that would send him off with a sobering acknowledgment that either way, life can go on. (Dead Oceans)