Strand of Oaks’ In Heaven is a Celestial Body of Sound and Soul

By Caleb Lovell

If you haven’t heard any music from the genre of “Galacticana,” that’s probably because it didn’t exist before this year. 

That’s right—psychedelic indie veteran Timothy Showalter (Strand of Oaks) literally created his own genre to categorize his seventh LP, In Heaven. The album is Showalter’s longest and most ambitious to date, and rivals all previous creations as his most brilliant masterpiece yet.

However, the title of the record is somewhat misleading. There is a strong sense of existentialism that embodies the whole record, which, as Showalter revealed in an interview with Stereogum, is largely the result of the untimely deaths of some close loved ones. On In Heaven, Showalter uses the theme of the cosmos as a medium for contemplating the difficult subject matter of mortality.

“We’re just movements in the dark / Lonely fragments made of stars,” he belts out on the chorus of “Horses at Night,” a song to which, according to Showalter, many of the other tracks on the record are merely “emotional breadcrumbs.”

Another song “Jimi & Stan” is a collective tribute to both the rock & roll legend Jimi Hendrix and Showalter’s beloved pet cat that died sometime before. This seemingly unlikely combination makes for a moving anthem that will hit home for anyone who has lost someone dear to them.

But despite the weight of grief that it carries, the new Oaks record is one that is aurally exquisite. Although the lyrical themes of the record are undeniably heavy, the sonic counterbalance is a wash of spacious synths, atmospheric acoustics, and soaring guitar solos that seem to lift the listeners “into heaven” themselves.

The hot and heavy “Sister Saturn” burns slowly like a dying star with all its distortion, and “Easter” feels like a tidal wave of ambiance that rides its crescendoing guitar strumming all the way to the cosmic shore.

Also somewhat surprisingly, Showalter considers In Heaven to be “the happiest record he has ever made.” 

This pure joy is clearly visible on the first track, “Galacticana,” with the line, “I believe that ecstasy happens when we all get together.” This is also the opening line of the whole album, proclaiming that the record is not intended to be a rumination on death, but rather a celebration of life as a community.

Another track that seems to radiate elation is the enigmatic “Sunbathers,” which contains the standout line, “Time means nothing if you can dream.” The song feels like a dream itself with its bizarre imagery of prehistoric animals and trains at night, but it is more like a fever dream with all its burning energy.

This passionate energy has always been present in Showalter’s music, even on records like HEAL (2014), which dealt with a lot of painful reconciliation. If there’s one process that Showalter has perfected over his extensive music career, it is the art of turning personal suffering into songs that bring communal catharsis and to his listeners. 

Perhaps In Heaven demonstrates this more masterfully than any other Strand of Oaks record. Tackling one’s own grief and making it something beautiful through art is no easy task. The tragic losses that we experience in life often beg the question, “Why go on?”

“For me, it’s all the songs I haven’t found,” Showalter boldly declares on “Jimi & Stan;” this is a line that will reach the heart of any songwriter alive. But that line is about more than just songwriting; it is about how we choose to live and what we choose to believe. 

Showalter chooses to believe In Heaven, a record that transcends its own heaviness, sound, and soul.

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