Ever wished you could have one single album that delivers glam rock style solos one minute, funky disco beats the next, some dark and depressing Armageddon type stuff, a little balladry and half a dozen other genres, musical tropes and cliche bending all at once? No, either have I. Because that sounds like a horrible, horrible mess. Yet, here I am, letting you know that Strand of Oaks delivers all of that and more on HEAL, and it’s actually really cool.
No less than three guitars, two of them riffing out against each other. Strand of Oaks gets HEAL off to a nut kicking start with Goshen ’97. This is the kind of rock that, on the surface, isn’t necessarily breaking any ground or defying any rules. But there’s a combination of balls out rock instrumentation, with lighter vocals that would be more expected in a waste coated, moustachioed, neo folk band these days.
Then it’s a complete 180 as the electronic bass and ethereal synths sounds of the title track make sure this album is impossible to pin down early. The drums might be real, but they keep to a simple beat that sounds like its straight from the world’s first drum machine.
Then it’s a great combo of the openers with Same Emotions. It takes the retro sound to new limits, complete with a keyboard solo that sounds like it’s been transcribed by the shreddingest guitar noodling you ever did hear. All this before it’s a mix of 70s disco and pure 80s for a result way better than you’d think that combination would, could or should ever be.
So, of course, at this stage, it’s time for Strand of Oaks to go somewhere else completely different yet again. This time, with a Springsteen-esque call to arms over a driving floor tom beat and ringing guitars. All before some Arcade Fire style grandiosity with Woke Up to the Light. It’s almost ‘Weird Al’ like in its ability tackle so many genres, just seriously.
While usually I would find songs like Plymoth and Mirage Year kind of underwhelming with their simple melody and simpler instrumentation, after the eclectic weirdness of everything that came before, they’re actually a nice breather. Nothing too crazy to wrap my ahead around, just nice simplicity at its most simplistic and nice.
Well, what a ride. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried and we’ve learned a few things along the way. It might only 40 minutes long, but Strand of Oaks covers so much ground in that time with HEAL, that it feels much bigger and longer in all the best ways. It’s not the kind of album you could ever put on because you were in a certain mood, because it refuses to stick with any one mood for more than a song or two at a time. But if you’re not sure how you feel and want to run though a complete emotional check list in a limited amount of time, this is the perfect soundtrack.